UNDETECTABLE HOMELESS

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A Weekly Cyberlog

July 16, 2003

It may seem to the reader that I spend too long on an “introduction” regarding how I
find an undetectable homeless person.  I’ve been advised by one reader to just relate
their stories–and delete all of the details of how I’ve come across so many people
(almost all women) who are living an alternative lifestyle.  If I don’t tell you how I search
for days, spending hours just in spotting, following, approaching, and attempting to
interview someone that I suspect is homeless, it almost sounds as if I’m “psychic.”
I’m not.  I’m blessed with patience and the determination to find and try to improve the
circumstances of those who are usually victims of our various systems after being
victimized by a person or group or company.  I spend a lot of time NOT finding what I
know is “out there,” and it is frustrating.  But I’ve been able to travel for thousands of
miles (in dribbles) for about 5-6 months every year for several years minus last
summer (weather reasons).  During that summer, I was communicating with at least
ten women with whom I’ve met and interviewed previously, and I hope to meet with
some of them this year.  While I assume that many of the hidden homeless will find
their way back to mainstream life, I am aware of too many who have now become
permanent vehicle–or other alternative living mode–dwellers.  I’m now at the end of
the first month of traveling, and it is painful to tell you that there are many more home-
less people now then ever before who will never be part of any census or academic/
social work study.

The last couple of years have been devastating to longtime workers and especially
those who expected to be able to use their 401(k) funds and pension plans as
retirement monies within the next 5 years.  Homemakers, of course, never do receive
salaries for being full-time housekeepers, laundresses, shoppers, child nurturers,
chauffeurs, gardeners, party-planners, etc. etc., so their fates have always depended
on the safety nets provided by their husbands.  Too many of those men were self-
employed and did not “save” enough, or just disappeared into a mid-life change which
includes a new young wife and a second family–with no thought of providing properly
for a woman whose choices at 50++ are now nearly nil.  Perhaps the reader will argue
that all “first wives” receive fair divorce settlements which will provide a happy financial
future.  It just isn’t so; men are the ones with the money and “old boy networks” to hire
lawyers who protect their clients in various ways.  The women reveal all of those loop-
holes in their personal narratives...as they live out of a van while the ex-husband is
doing the backstroke in his in-ground pool.  (And “NO”; I’m not a “man-hater.”  I just
know what happens to older women with absolutely no financial future.)  Today, there
are just as many stories about corporate executives who decimate their company’s
pension plans and vote themselves huge raises, bonuses, and personal pension plans
–so that employees are left to rely on what is available in the job market, which every-
one knows is at an all-time low...especially for middle and upper level management
workers.

So, bear with me as I tell you about four homeless women whom I’ve met within the last
three years.  I could label this column “The Ladies Who Live as Adventurers.”  All have
lived out of RVs, small motor homes, rigs, campers, and tents and need rural land for
“good weather” survival.  I’m going to begin with Liz, whom I met by accident just last
week.  I was driving inland, through farm, forest, and lake regions, heading for a village
which I visit every year due to my academic interest in American history and groups
which have formed towns by strict organizational strategy...usually originally because
of a philosophical or religious purpose.  I will post a photo of the area in which Liz lives
in the summer, but I am going to attempt to disguise the exact location with an artistic
deletion:
 
 

“I just love this area.  It’s all hills and valleys with gorgeous foliage and lots of places to
walk through the woods and pick blueberries...and I can use the beach with no one else
usually there at all.  I can swim all day or lay on the beach and read....I just park between
the trees in the way-back and I don’t think anyone even knows I’m there.  If they do, no
one seems to care.  I don’t bother anyone, and when I go into town for food, no one
seems to recognize me or say anything.....I can do this from like the end of April to the
end of October, and then I go into the city and live in the two malls.  There are a lot of
immigrants coming in, and if anyone catches attention, it’s them, not me....But this isn’t
the kind of life I thought I’d have come this age.  I was an assistant park ranger for years
up in Washington, and when I couldn’t get promoted, I came East and hoped to get a
job in one of the parks here.  I had an affair with one of the management guys and when
he dumped me, he bad-mouthed me and wouldn’t give me a reference.  So, I just do
what I know how to do and I’m trying for getting Disability now, and with that I’ll be OK
as long as I can pick my food....I can shoot some wild birds and they are like scrawny
chickens, and I can fish for trout and some other small fish up in the stream in the hills,
so I don’t go hungry....I like the life I had, and I wouldn’t choose this, but I’ll survive....I’m
hoping to find another woman who has the money to start a camping ground for city
kids...the poor ones...and I can do all of the work until I fall apart completely.”
(Liz, age 57, 2003 in Maine)
 

Some of the experiences I’ve had aren’t good for the digestion.  I had to stop at a gas
station for a tire chance and gas when I spotted Anne and the fur pieces that hung from
the windows in her old van.  She was more than happy to brag about her prowess with
guns, rifles, and the fur “shades” that she made:

“I’ve always hated guns, but I had to learn to use one...and rifles too.  I have a place to
keep my van where no one should see it, and I sleep okay.  I get spooked by the owls
and bats at night, but the really dangerous animals don’t really scare me.  And they
are all over the woods.  Anyway, one day a couple of years ago, I was walkin’ and
found a racoon in pretty good shape after being fresh roadkill.  I just grabbed the tail
and stuck it in a garbage bag..and when I got it back to my place, I took it out and put it
on a rock to dry out.  You know, let the blood dry....I never skinned anythin’ before, but I
saw a good idea for makin’ some money, so I just took a knife and skinned it and made
a wrap-around thing for my hands in the winter.  It wasn’t that hard to do; it was all the
gook that made me sick the first time.  But I needed the money, and I got to thinkin’
about how if I could get some foxes and skunks and squirrels and more racoons, I could
skin ‘em and make somethin’ and then sell things.  I couldn’t catch any, so I bought a
rifle and started practicin’....It’s been a pretty good business since I learned how to do it
all right.  You can see my skin-covers hangin’ in the truck windows.  Aren’t they terrific?
....I used to work in a plant that made paint cans and while the pay wasn’t bad, it was
borin’.  The same thing every day.  I was shocked when the plant closed since we all
thought that they were makin’ a bundle, but there was some kind of scandal about how
they did their books, and they went splat.  I don’t know what most of those gals did after-
wards since there wasn’t any other plants nearby and they all needed to work, but I just
got in my van and started drivin’ north....I had been married and divorced and got no
money from him, so it was just me and it’s just me today and maybe forever.”
(Anne, age 51, 2000 in NH)

I bought a few pieces of lovely, pressed-wildflower writing paper from a very angry-look-
ing woman at a crafts faire in NH.  She was fuming because the person in charge had
put her table off in a corner of the field.  Her old Minnie Winnie RV was parked not far
away, and she returned to it to get more of the same colored paper that I wanted.  I
deduced that she lived in the RV because of the furniture tied on top and a bicycle on
a rack on the back...and a long skirt that was drying on a line that she had strung from
her RV to a tree.  No doubt the faire owner decided to “hide” her belongings from public
view in an otherwise rather posh group of crafters.  Fiona had the flaming red hair of a
pale, freckled Irish lass, but she talked of skin cancer treatments while she wrapped my
delicate paper in a box.  That explained the odd floppy hat she had hanging over her
face and the long sleeves in a heatwave.  I had my tape recorder turned on in my open
purse, and I’ve caught a lot of our conversation:
 

“...a nasty year what with the little surgeries and scars as I try to get into all of the crafty
places that I can as I go from VA to NH....I can’t stay with my sons anymore since their
wives don’t like me much and I don’t want to be the cause of any divorces.  So, I just
spend winters there, parked in their driveways or back yards, and head up the coast for
the tourist season....I used to have the most gorgeous garden in my own back yard.
Then the mortgage payments became hard to pay on time, and the property tax shot up,
the doctor and pharmacy bills just blew my savings, and before I knew it, my Social
Security checks didn’t come anywhere near my needs.  Now they cover only part of what
I’d have to pay for a cheap apartment, so I sold my house and got a few thousand dollars
profit, but used it for the RV so I could move around....I live, uh, park,  wherever it’s free
or cheap, but I have all of my stuff in the RV and sleep in it...I had made presents for
everyone for years of this kind of writing paper–from the dried flowers that I love so much.
I saw someone selling the same things but not as good at a church sale, and figured if
she could sell the stuff she made, then I had it all over her....I stop every place I see the
flowers that dry just right and hang them upside down in the Minnie.  I’ve only been stop-
ped by a policeman twice for picking flowers in parks, so it doesn’t scare me to do it
anymore.  I just get out my basket and collect!....The notepaper doesn’t bring in much by
itself, but I got all of this other stuff.  My best sellers are these pillow covers with the plastic
overlays to seal in the flowers.  I’ll bet you never saw anything like this in a store! [I hadn’t.]
They’re just for show, you know.  You shouldn’t lean on them.  But they dress up a room
like a crown.  One woman bought a bunch of them for a nursing home, she said.  Since
the people can’t get out of their wheelchairs or whatever, they get to look at all of the
pretty pillows on the sofas, and when Sunday and company comes, the staff take away
the pillows and put them in one place just for show....I can’t ride the bike anymore but it
makes me look healthy and maybe it will keep me from being robbed at night.  I hope
that everyone will think that a healthy man lives inside....I park in any big hotel lot that
doesn’t have a guard.” (Fiona, age 68, 2000 in NH)

I didn’t have a digital camera in 2000, so I lack the photos to show here.

The stories you’ve just read are indicative of the innovative strategies that hidden home-
less women utilize to “make a living.”  It is very common for this decade’s homeless to
be businesswomen...even if homeless.
 
 


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