Forgotten Flight Oral History Transcript
KG: Kelsey Glander
EL: Evette Lewis
Transcribed by: Jackie Salg
EL: “I was actually running errands for a disabled [undistinguishable] who’s more disabled than me and I stopped to give Kelsey this interview. I joined the military in 1983. As an only child of just my mother, my parents were divorced when I was two. There weren’t a lot of jobs out in the Regan administration and the military seemed like a career that I could travel. I was always into traveling and getting away, so the military served that for me. I was a United States Air Forced veteran from 1983 to 1985. My mom got really sick and the Red Cross had me released, and that’s how I got home. I’ve been traveled overseas to Portugal, Italy, Spain, Germany, and abroad in the United States. I was an administrative specialist. While I was in service, I worked on a very large Xerox machine, processing orders and then I was a mail clerk. And then I went to a specials orders clerk for a general of the base. That was like a highly secret job that I had and I was working with a lot of secret material. And I was stationed in Portugal in the [undistinguishable], that was my last base before I came home. The most memorable experiences from my time in the military, would have to be the parties. God, I’m just going to keep it real with you it was definitely the parties. The parties and meeting other people that I’d never met before from all walks of life. You get a chance to meet people that aren’t like you on a every day basis. You know, you get to meet people outside of your comfort zone. So that was very cool for me. And I kept a lot of my friends till about maybe ten years after I got out. And then we kinda all sorta drifted away. But I have wonderful pictures of my time in the service and I didn’t have any children and it was wonderful. I had a really good time. My family didn’t, well my mom really wasn’t feeling the service. She was very hostile when I went in and she was very happy when I came out. I guess maybe because [undistinguishable] only child, and being her only child, and being a girl child, kinda had her worried a little it about if a war was to break out, would I have to go to the front lines. I was all for it, I was like, “Yes, let’s go.” But my family was more or less concerned about that. But I really enjoyed my time in the service, especially the traveling. The traveling is what I recommend to my children. I have a son that’s been in the army for four years. He did his enlistment, came out a honorable veteran. And my youngest son is now talking about going in the air force, but he’s going in the medical field. So, I’m kinda pushing him towards it. It teaches you, it gives you work ethic. It teaches you how to wake up in the morning, that you know, you really have to go to work everyday. And it gives you some life skills that you don’t really get when you don’t get to travel. It teaches you how to live outside of your comfort zone. I left the military because my mom got really sick and there was nobody at home to take care of her. And the job that I had, because I had such a high security clearance, they would not allow me to do any kind of vacations or anything because I answered to the general of the base. So when he got ready to go somewhere, I had to be ready to go somewhere. When he got ready to come home, I had to be ready to come home and it was very constrictive. I think if I didn’t have such that toxic of clearance, with the restrictiveness, I probably would have stayed then and did my whole twenty. Yeah, I do believe that. Challenges sinced I’ve faced leaving the military? Not a lot of challenges. I walked right out of the military into a state career job. I was a state worker for the state of Pennsylvania over twenty years after I left. So what it did was it gave me a working experience and a backboard and sounding board to jump off of. Where as though I jumped right into the state, moved around different places until I got settled. I was a case worker for the welfare office. I did that for like the last ten years before I became disabled. So that was a really good thing. My experience with being an [undistinguishable]? Well I first came into knowing about my VA privileges when I became disabled. And it was told to me that I could receive monetary benefits but I didn’t get hurt in the army, in the air force. So I saw no reason to tap into those funds. Those funds could be used for my brothers and sisters that are actually coming from the war, that need to have that placement, that needed to have those funds. So when I became disabled, I stayed on general unemployment side of it. I didn’t tap into the VA until I became homeless in Pennsylvania. I was homeless in Pennsylvania. One time after my mom had passed and we sold her house and money was distributed to my children, I found myself in a homeless position. And I had to tap into some funds up in Pennsylvania. But down here, I became one hundred percent homeless when I hit Virginia. It was by accident. I had been looking for a place to live, somewhere that was relatively warm, but I wanted a commonwealth state.
KG: So that’s what brought you to Richmond?
EL: And that’s what brought me to Virginia because there’s only three commonwealth states left in the common[undistinguishable]. And that would be Kentucky, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. So I was totally done with Pennsylvania. I didn’t know anybody in Kentucky. So, I picked out Virginia. How I came to pick Richmond was because there were a hotel, I’m sorry an apartment ad, in [undistinguishable], Virginia. And that was originally was supposed to be where I went. Well, when I got down here I got picked up the whole house and I closed out everything and I got in the Uhaul truck. And I get down here, it was a scam. And they didn’t have an apartment ready for me. Now, at that point in my life is like don’t, can’t turn around because there’s nothing that you left behind you, so all you can do is walk forward. And being a veteran, and being at different places I guess that’s where the excitement lead into the adventure. Ok, well we’re gonna venture off and see what happens. Well, from [undistinguishable], sent me to Richmond for VA services. When I got here, I checked into what is called Tuckerhouse. I had an anxiety attack and I had lapsed into depression because I didn’t know how to go about getting my money back from the apartment. I had spent all, mostly depleted all my funds for the month, so I had to wait until my benefits clicked over again. Well, when they clicked over again I wind up being housed for twenty days for stress and depression. From there, I was having a hard time getting my medication. I came down with prescriptions but then trying to get them filled because of the narcotics that I was taking, was kinda hard on me, and with my medication going up and down I was just not stable. So from there, I found myself homeless and I wind up in what’s called the “overflow.” The overflow down here is when the shelters are all filled up and they have no more place for the homeless people in the city during the winter months. And as long as it’s under 32 degrees they open what’s called, an “overflow house.” And it’s stationed at, now I know one North four street, downtown Richmond, right where the transportation center is at. Well I found myself in there. I got hooked up with people who I thought were trying to find homes but were really caught into a cycle of homelessness like this is how they lived in the winter time. They knew about the overflow, they knew about the shelter system and how it works. And with me being a new comer, I was like prey to them because I had income. Sometime during the month of February, from February until April, I stayed housed at the overflow. Well, when the weather changed like it is now, what is nice days outside, they closed the overflow. I found myself with nowhere to go. One of the other people that homeless people told me about, what we called the bridge. It’s actually located at Chamberlain and Belvidere, right when you get on sixty-four, there’s a ramp that comes off on [undistinguishable] Drive. If you walk up near the projects, you will find a little secret underpass where we used to live at. We had three large queen sized mattresses down there. There was a futon down there. There was a makeshift stove down there. We had a makeshift port-o-potty down there. So, when I got underneath of there, I didn’t find myself comfortable but at the time, the shelters were so over ran with mental health people. And with me taking the kind of medicines that I take, it was just totally unbearable. Like, I wasn’t able to sleep at nighttime because people would be up and moving around me and would make me scared. And then there was the level of theft that was going on. So if you laid your pocketbook down, it was guaranteed that when you came back, it was not there. So under the bridge was a relatively safe location for me. That’s the only real placed that I stayed since I lost my home. The hardest thing about not having a home is being able to get up in the morning and wash your face and brush your teeth. The things that you do naturally, is taking for granted when you’re outside. There is no get up in the middle of the night and get a drink of water, unless you have water that you already transported down there. I think that’s the hardest part about being…of not having a home, is just being able to go to the bathroom. We did a lot of outside bathroom so that meant carrying handy wipes, that meant carrying toilet paper. That meant going into public restrooms and things like that and actually washing up. And we missed our days. Like we had a routine; Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, were our shower days. Tuesdays and Thursdays were the days that we went to all you can eat buffets. At the time, I was not exercising my VA benefits. The VA actually kicked in for me, after the fact. When I went to the VA and I had a case manager but me and her didn’t get along very well. And then what happened was once they hooked up and they found out that I was living underneath the bridge, which was really an unsafe thing, and really emergency, as far as a veteran is concerned. They gave me Ms. [Deseriee?], and they gave me outside, outreach homeless team. They actually and these people are actually hands on [undistinguishable]. And they would come down there and get me and take me to appointments and things like that. But the hardest thing about having a home is definitely the routine of being able to just go to your fridge and getting something cool to drink, having use of the bathroom, and just not even so much as having a safe place to live because I was relatively safe when I was under the bridge. And just not being able to do normal things like cook a meal for yourself. We did a lot of outside eating. And I think that’s what I miss most, was actually cooking. My day-to-day life now, I’m back to normal. I wake up every morning about ten and I start my routine as I [undistinguishable] in the bathroom and then cooking my own meals. And then what I do is I outreach a lot to people in my community that are a little bit more handicap than me. Like today, I’m running errands for a lady that lives across the street from me because she’s in a wheelchair. She has really bad COPD and is not able to walk really well. So she gives me her vehicle and then I do her errands for her. So that’s like a normal day for me. Yeah, I do have a close friend, I have a god sister that lives in Pennsylvania and we talk everyday. I didn’t talk to anybody when I was homeless. I had lost my home by accident and I had lost all my numbers. So I didn’t talk to anybody for about six months, and they were frantic. My children, I did get a chance to talk to my daughter, I talked to her everyday, two or three times a day. She is my middle child, she’s twenty-seven. And it’s my everyday, and talking to people, is like I’m back to normal again with my friends. Yeah, it’s hard making friends now because I’m at the place where I kinda wanna get a job, and I’m looking for a job, like a little part time job now that’ll help me out financially, but it’ll help me get out and meet more people. That’s what I’m into now because I’ve been here for a year now so now it’s like, ok it’s time for you to get outside, meet new people, and then that way, you know I’m able to go into the community and learn my way around. Like, I only know one way in downtown and out. But the other day I was doing an errand for one of my neighbors and I learned a whole different way, I’m like, “Oh God, this is so much quicker.” So that’s a good thing. It’s easy to make friends in my current situation. I make friends easily, I’m a very, I’m open person. I’m a very friendly person. I talk to people all the time, I’m very communicative, and I talk to people a lot about things that I want to do and like to do, and stuff like that. So I do meet a lot of people. But then I have times where I been a bit lonely because I get home sick from my children; I miss my family, I miss my grand children but I Skype them or I message them. And then we can talk and I can seem them face to face and stuff like that, so that’s good. The barriers that face homeless veterans? I think it comes from the community. When I was homeless, I saw people look down; you know if we asked them for a dollar, or for fifty cents? And there was a level of begging and panhandling that comes with homelessness because you don’t have. People think, and even me with the income, people think that homeless people have money, they live in a house somewhere, but they don’t. And they’re clean, we were clean when I was outside even though I was only eligible to take a shower three times out of seven days. You know, you keep yourself together. They do, they give free haircuts. Most of the churches, they do a lot of outreach with the homeless people. But a barrier that I would say, the homeless person is their own barrier. There are walls that becomes built at different levels of homelessness, there are walls. Some people built walls because of their past family life and then they attach it to society as a whole. And then some people built up walls like me. My wall came when it came time to go inside. Ms. [Desiree?] had found me a place where I could go inside but me going inside would have meant that I wouldn’t have been able to move into my own place, but then it would’ve took longer. Rather me stay outside, which was the shorter thing. Which to them, kept me at the top of their emergency list. Like, we have versus me being inside which would have dropped me down the list two other people. But then you have a kind of resilience when you live outside and you’re homeless. So I think the barriers come from the community and then there are also self-made barriers. Yeah.
KG: Can you give me an example of a community barrier?
EL: Yeah, when wintertime comes the community is always giving out free food at Monroe Park. Every Saturday we met at Monroe Park at different churches and things and different organizations that would come out and give free food. Well as September rolled around, no I’m sorry, as June and July rolled into the Springtime, that eased off. There was nobody there; people taking vacations, summertime coming on the way and doing things and reacting with their own family kinda left a little loophole with the homeless people. So there wasn’t that constant feeding, like there wasn’t that constant attention, constant being given hygiene products and things like that, that they’re really not able to buy on their own. People think that homeless people, yeah, we do live off of welfare benefits, we live off of food stamps, and we live off of the money that they give us. [phone rings] Excuse me for one second. I have to run upstairs and get my phone.
KG: No worries.
EL: [Phone conversation in the background] Hi, I forgot I had to see you and talk to my case worker this morning. Soon as I get finished I have to run down to the [undistinguishable] I be over. I said I forgot I had to meet with my case worker this morning. No, I’m right across the street at home, she come to the house. Yeah, as soon as I get finished, then I run down there and [undistinguishable]. Okay. [Returning] She was wondering what had took me so long.
KG: [Laughs] No worries.
EL: Told her I had to meet with somebody. Where were we?
KG: So you’re talking about how there seems to be less community aid in the summer.
EL: Yes, there’s less community aid in the summer and it kinda pushes the homeless people into stealing, looting, scams, all kinds of craziness. But then when it gets back to the wintertime again, then everything goes back to being normal. Well what we as homeless people call normal. That’s normal times when we go and we shower, and the community, and the churches, and the community comes back out to feed and to pass out book bags, clothes, all kinds of stuff, clothes, jackets, pants, everything. So yeah, there’s a little gap in the summertime. I would say it starts about April and runs all the way until September. It’s definitely not the level of care there. The particularly experiences of veterans? They don’t know, civilians, society doesn’t know how to treat homeless people with dignity. Homeless people, regardless…I met people who had been homeless for ten years. When I was living underneath the bridge there was a man that lived on the other side of the [undistinguishable]. He had been living there for over fifteen years. He had his own TV, he had a generator down there and he had a set up where he had a three-bedroom apartment down there. And when I asked him, because I’m always curious, like, “What made you stay underneath of here?” And he said because most of the people that he meet, in his condition are very mean and nasty. There’s a level of negativity that makes, that makes society look down on homeless people. Yeah, most of them, majority of them are dirty, they’re not well kept, or well groomed. And whenever you roll up on somebody and they’re not well groomed or they m ay have an odor, it seems to make people step back. That’s a normal reaction. But if you look behind all of that physical stuff, you still find a human being that has a heart, that bleeds, that cries, that has happy times, that has all the regular emotions that a normal person does. Veterans, especially, because we have lived in those elements, because we have lived in the jungles, they trained us how to live in the mountains and they trained us how to go without food and water and clothes and things of that nature and to struggle with what you have. I think that’s where the homeless veteran gets stuck at. And says as well, you know, every time I go in for help, everyone’s looking down on me – that becomes depressing after a while. And it makes you feel like nobody really cares or gives a damn. Therefore, you get stuck and you’re in a situation and you learn how to live it. That’s where we get these lifetime homeless veterans from. When you see somebody sleeping on a grate or sleeping on the street and you go up there and ask them, would they like to come inside, and they tell you no. They really, really mean that because they’ve been stepped on so many times, that they don’t want to release that hope. Like I was telling Ms. [Desiree?] when I was homeless, “Don’t promise me anything. Let me go through the steps first without promising, oh here’s your keys, you know? And like it’s a carrot in front of a rabbit, like, don’t do that.” Treat me with dignity. You know I chose to live underneath the bridge at the last hour because that’s where I felt most comfortable at. I didn’t need to go inside to have somebody that was mentally unstable say something or do something to me and then I attack them or they attack me. Now I’m involved in the justice system. Now I’m not going to get any help from the program because I’ve stepped over into a justice system type of situation. That’s why I think veterans become homeless. Because they get used to being where they are, where it’s stable, where they don’t have to put they’re hope. It’s like putting your hope, okay, like Ms. [Desiree?] told me, she said, “You can go inside, you know? We really want you to come inside.” And they was pushing me to go into this shelter but my whole thing was no. You’re not going into that place because I know what goes on in there and if I go in there and I get caught up in any of that nonsense, then that’s gonna make me be like, “Hey, I’m not into this.” But then where does that put me on the list as far as me receiving benefits? How do I go about getting off of the street like right away? It took me….[reads?] How do you feel when people offer you charity? I say thank you. There was this one church that we went to, it’s on – right there outside of James Ward. And we used to go everyday and eat and they served the greatest food. But they kept it real simple; you line up, you stay line, you come and then they serving seconds and thirds. But you don’t be rushed and be greedy about it. And when you put people, homeless people, in a situation like that, you find out that they’re very civilianized, that they’re really – we’re really people. We’re people that have fallen through a crack. And we don’t wanna stay here, we really wanna do better but there’s a level in society that wants to keep us there. They don’t wanna see the person that has urinated on themselves because we couldn’t the [undistinguishable] bathroom or we went into the public restroom and they told us, “Oh no, this is for customers.” Well what do you do? There wre plenty of times that I had to actually go outside. I would find a parking lot and I just had to go. There were plenty of times that we panhandled, that we were hungry and we went into the supermarket and we came out with food. As far as going into a shelter, yeah, people go inside only when they feel comfortable. What I’m most proud of is pulling another person with me out of homelessness. His name is Jason and him and I have a relationship, he’s a very nice guy. There’s a twenty year difference between us though. And, but he was homeless with me. And we promised each other that if either one of us could pull each other out of homelessness, that the other person would help the other person out. So I did. And now he has a job and he’s stable and he’s living in a [undistinguishable] house and he helps his mom and his dad. And that made me feel really good, you know? I haven’t talked to him in a while but he’s not in jail. I called the jail every week to make sure he’s not in jail or anything and he’s stable now. You know and he slipped into homelessness because he came from being incarcerated. He wasn’t even a veteran, you know? And veterans, when you’re homeless, it’s a little bit harder for us to come inside because we’ve been used to dealing with the elements. We’re used to you know, being put in situations that are uncomfortable for us. Being homeless is not comfortable, it’s very uncomfortable. But when you’re a veteran, you’re trained to get used to the uncomfortable. We’re trained to get used to the unfamiliar. We’re trained to live off of sea rations, that’s where we call the home made, the things that we get when we go out in the field. We call them sea rations. We’re used to eating like that. So when homeless comes about, it’s…we deal with it. It’s not a really big problem for us because we’ve been used to it.
KG: How has being a homeless veteran, at one point, changed your worldview?
EL: Oh, I look at homelessness at a totally different level now. When I see that person that’s outside panhandling or I see that person that I know that’s a vet because their [undistinguishable] or their medals or whatever advertisement they may have on their body, I look at them, not looking down on them, but looking at them on an equal level like, I been there before, so here’s a dollar. Or let me go and take you and get you something to eat. Or I will run and go get a meal and bring it back to them. Or if I know of anything that’s available to them, I try to offer assistance that way.
KG: That’s what one of the people who I was talking to yesterday, he said the same thing, cause he’s been there he feels a strong need to help and give and back when he’s able, yeah.
EL: Yeah, and I think that’s where my community services kicked in now with a lot of my neighbors because I see the need. Now before when I was outside in society, I was working and I was getting my career on. I didn’t see the homeless people, you kinda blank them out a little bit or you know, you’re so focused on what you’re doing that you don’t really see them. But now I see htem more. I can tell the difference between – in a group of people, I pick out the ones that are homeless. They have a certain stature to them. You know, they look a little bit different than a normal person, than a normal street person. And that’s what makes me give back a little bit more now, yeah.
KG: How do you feel about you know, previously having been a homeless veteran, how do you feel that makes society think of you?
EL: At one point in time, I thought society, I though had looked down on me because I’m like they have all these programs and stuff set up but where I do I fit in? You know, that was my whole thing, with where does Evette fit into this? Where do I actually…where is my [undistinguishable] at, you know? Why can’t I get into…like, when I moved in here they told me, “Oh well we’re gonna help you pay your rent.” Some I’m like, okay. And I had a really big [undistinguishable] when I first got here because I thought it was Section Eight…helps a segment of people and then the VA has the [undistinguishable] that helps the segment of people. Well, it’s totally unequal. It goes based on your income but what happens when your income fluctuates? Or like I’ve been living off of the same income for the last twenty years. I haven’t gotten an increase and the money I had back then was really good but now we’re moving into a generation, a whole other couple years, and it’s just not meeting the needs anymore. Society looks down on that. Like, we’re supposed to keep doing the same thing every month; it gets monotonous after a while. And that’s how I think people slip into homelessness because they just want to be able to go on a vacation. They just want to like, I need a car so desperately now that I was willing to take my house money to buy a car. But then I had to sit down and think, well you gonna wind up living in that car, so what do you do? So now I was into okay, well we’re gonna start saving for a car. But if you wanna car that costs, maybe if you go to an auction that costs seven to eight hundred dollars or a thousand dollars, and you can only save twenty-five dollars a month, look how long is it going to take you? You know, a lot of – there needs to be more programs that help homeless veterans. Don’t just, don’t just– we don’t want a handout. We want a hand up, you know? We don’t want you to give us nothing, you know, like there were plenty of times that I was willing to wash dishes, I was willing to do laundry, I was willing to go in and help people clean their houses and stuff, just to be able to sleep in a bed, to get up and go get a drink of water in the middle of the night. Or just like when the weather is inclimate – when the weather is inclimate, it’s so hard because we had to double up on clothes, or we had to sit outside. There were plenty of times that I just walked in the rain. Now, I don’t even use an umbrella because I’m so used to it. You know, once you get used to something, it becomes a habit. So….homelessness and being a veteran at some point in time, is learning. But there are other points in times you meet people that have just fallen through the cracks. And all we need is just a help, just a handout. You know, we don’t want to be looked upon like we’re dirty or stinky. One time yeah, I was a dirty girl because I didn’t know where to go to take a shower; there was nobody to tell me, “Oh, they’ll hand you a paper and say, well, you find it.” Well if you’re not into maps, if you’re not into street signs, there’s a level of uneducated people that are homeless vets. They, they [phone rings] we had the education…excuse me. Let me see who this is. This phone is acting really crazy today. We have the level of education, but we don’t have the level – but sometimes it gets lost. You know [phone rings] find computers…hold on. [Picks up phone] Hello? Hey… Okay, well let me finish up with her and then I be over. Okay. [Returns to interview] There’s always that level of a…there’s always that level of hope. You know, when you be outside for a long time you can lose hope real quick and say, “You know what? This is just how it is.” A lot of homeless people, they go and rent hotel rooms to get off the street just to have a place to sleep, just to have a place to eat. But then it uses up their money so fast that they don’t – they don’t even get a chance to be stable. And then you have programs, like I was outside and there was a program that had opened and all this homeless people had got rooms. But they didn’t have jobs to maintain them. They lied their way into it. “Oh yeah, I get a check every month.” Because they had a couple dollars in their pockets so the landlord would go ahead on and take the stipend that the government, or that the state, or the federal, local government was giving them for that person without that person having a way to sustain their self. So then what happens? They go right back out on the streets again within ninety days. It’s a vicious cycle and the only way to pull yourself up out of it, to maintain stability, is to really want it. And after you stay outside for a couple years, you don’t want it anymore – you just get used to it. You – those people become your family, they become your friends, they become your enablers – they enable you to stay outside. And it becomes like crabs in a basket – “Oh no, you can’t leave us. You know, we want you to be here.” I had got caught up in that syndrome for a minute and if it wasn’t for Ms. [Desiree?] being a great case manager and letting me know, you know, “Ms. Lewis, these people,” this is my son coming in, “these people” you get a chance to meet my youngest. Hi, Just. I’m being interviewed. You good on camera? [Laughs] That’s Kelsey.
EL: Kelsey, that’s my son, Justin. Justin is studying to be a nursing assistant.
KG: Really nice to meet you.
EL: Come say hi. Just say hi, get down.
EL: Say hi. I’ll talk to you in a minute. That’s my youngest. My kids kept me from being homeless. If my children hadn’t known that their mother was sleeping underneath a bridge, they woulda came down to Richmond and got me, but that’s not what I wanted. It was time for mommy – I came to Richmond and I moved out of my comfort zone because I didn’t want to be in their everyday lives because I was become stagnant and I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to be an at home grandmom that sat at home all day and watched the grandkids, that’s not what I envisioned for the rest of my life. I wanted a job, I wanted to get married again. I want a husband and not starting off on a whole new family but just incorporating you know, him into my life. And I just wanted some freedom, you know? And when my freedom came, it came with a cost. And my cost was being homeless for about almost a year, yeah.
KG: Can you tell me about the day you found out you’re going to be housed?
EL: Oh my gosh. Ms. [Desiree?] came and got me from underneath the bridge and she had me go over and sit and talk with one of the financial advisors over at the VA. And they had me sign all these papers and I was like, “Okay, I’m signing my life away.” And they were like, “No, we’re just applying you for a voucher.” So you know, I’m still not really understanding what’s going on. I’m like, “Okay.” She was like, “Evette, you have to go through the motions, you know, in order to get to what you need. So I’m like, “Okay, okay, okay. I’ll go through the motions to get what I need.” And I came out and – well, I looked at two other apartments before this one and I didn’t like them. I was like, “No, this is just a straight no go. I’m not going through this.”
EL: And then, she called me one morning and Leah was my other case manager with the VA, with the emergency [undistinguishable] people. And she was like, “Oh, we have this apartment for you to go and look at. We have a house for you to go and look at. We don’t know if you’re going to like it but it’s within your financial field. Why don’t you come and take a look? So I’m like, “Okay, I’ll go out here and take a look.” And it was no credit check because my credit is just pfft. But there was a background check – well, I don’t have anything in my background, not a felon or a misdemeanor or anything like that. So she was like, “Okay, we gonna come and pick you up.” So they came and got me from underneath the bridge and we came over here. So the girl actually comes up – you can imagine this place empty- I walk through the door and I’m like looking, “I’m like oh my God.” I was like, “This looks so nice.” You know, and I started, I’m like, “Listen, don’t show me something and then have me get my hopes up for it and then it falls through.” So I said, “Well, I know I’m not going to get this place, it’s too nice regardless of what my income looks like.” So we go ahead on, and they show me this place and I’m looking I’m like, “Oh God, it got a bathroom downstairs. It got a full bathroom upstairs. Plus, I got a room for when the grandkids or when my children step through the cracks and need a place to stay.” Well, three days later she calls me but I had already had a plan – my B plan. And I had moved from underneath the bridge. I had made up my mind that this month we’re taking income and we’re going to find us a place to live. So being as though that my partner that I was with, Jason, had found him a job, he had got him a job, from actually panhandling. And one of the guys had asked him, “Did he work?” and he said, “Yes.” He does masonry work and all this kind of construction. So they gave him a job. So we were like, “Well we’re not even gonna think about that house because we don’t know if we’re gonna get it.” We going to go ahead and we moved into a room. So I was actually on a room on [undistinguishable] for a week before I moved in here. So she calls me that morning and wakes me up. And I’m like, “Ms. [Desiree?] you know, like at this point, what do you want? Are we gonna go look at more apartments?” So she was like, “No Ms. Evette. You can pick up your keys.” And I’m like, “Really?!” Like I have keys to a place that’s my own that’s not a hotel? Cause after a week I had gotten really lonely and really bored with sitting in the hotel. I didn’t know anything, anybody, there was no place else to go. And I didn’t want to start calling the homeless people that I knew because I knew that that would just send me right back down the rabbit hole again. So she was like, “No really, you can go pick up your keys.” And I was like, “I can go pick up keys?” And she was like, “Yeah.” And then I didn’t have to pay anything when I moved in. They paid for my first month’s rent, they paid for my security deposit. So I didn’t have to pay anything. But man, I still have the pictures on my phone. We picked up that day and we moved out, kissed our hotel room goodbye, like, “See you later.” I didn’t have to worry about no bed bugs or nothing like that. We didn’t have anything here. We slept on the floor for like just a day until they got us over to [undistinguishable] and [undistinguishable] gave us some beds and stuff like that. But we were just happy to be inside and have some keys, man.
EL: You know, it was like once we got the keys, once I got the keys I was like, “We’re good to go.” And I was surprised because at first when you come in from outside you’re still in that state. A lot of bad habits that you bring with you, a lot of bad spending habits. People think that all veterans are drug abusers, we’re not. Yes, I smoke marijuana everyday because of the disability that I have. It just takes the edge off the medicine and it makes me a little calmer with my anxiety. But then that stops me from getting jobs and things of that nature. But like I say, one day they gonna legalize and everything will be fine. So I had a little hiccup when I first moved in but the [undistinguishable] program was eligible to be picked up because they don’t recognize me as a substance abuser. Like I don’t do cocaine, I don’t do heroin. There’s nothing wrong with having like, alcohol is legal but you can still be an alcoholic. Marijuana is legal, you can still be legalized as a pot head. But what pot head do you know that all they wanna do is head – you wanna run at the refrigerator hard. You know, it doesn’t lead you to a life of crime like most debilitating drugs do. So when we found out that we was having – that we moved into our place, I had a house warming and did have a lot of people come over. And then I found out most of them were kinda jealous because I live behind the VA and I am a veteran. And they was like, “Oh man, you know, you got this.” No, I got this because I kept going. I kept fighting and I kept having hope but not putting myself out there, still making my plan you know, to not lose my shelter. But just having hope hey, that you know, one day I’m gonna have my own place. You know, I am going to be able to come downstairs and fix my own breakfast and cook my own dinner so that that was a big thing. When she first told me that I got this place I was just ecstatic. Yeah, it was a good day.
KG: I’m sure.
EL:It was a really good day, yeah.
KG: Is there anything you’d like to share about your experience, either in the military or when you were homeless or becoming housed, or goals for the future?
EL: My goals for the future are I did play with my rent – well, I didn’t play with it actually, my father got sick and he had to have a thyroid operation. Me being an only child, I did take a portion of my rent money and they started sending me notices and they were gonna like, evict me. And I’m like, “Oh man.” And I got really depressed about it and the case manager that I have now, really is not on top of her game and she really didn’t give me the services for – but I did was I was very open, and I was very honest. And I went to court and I let them know, listen, I’m an only child. I plan on paying my rent, the rest of the portion that I do you, at the end of this month. So, what happened was my case manager ran up on me and she was like, “Listen, you can’t do that because it really works on your nerves and it stresses you out completely. It puts a certain level of stress on you that’s not good. It makes you start thinking about you know, if I lose this place where am I going to go? So I just got recertified. They came, Sarah came out and they checked out the whole place and I told her I’m very happy with living here. And they recertified me again for another year. I have my voucher again for another year. I don’t know how long I’m gonna keep the voucher, but hopefully, it’s indefinite, because I can afford this place on my own if I had a part time job but even on my own, I would still stay here. It’s about a three hundred dollar difference with what they pay. But I like it. I like it here and I like Richmond now. And I’m starting to feel like I’m a member of the community, like I voted over here when we had the last primary and I’m starting to – they had a big barbeque and I won one of the raffles. So I got this Old Navy giftcard and I got online and I ordered me a shirt. So I say this is my new home shirt
EL: you know that I wear that when I do wear it, it makes me feel like I’m a person again. It gives you a level of satisfaction in your life. You know, it makes you feel good when you come in, when I looked at and I see where I used to live at and when I say you know, “Living underneath the bridge was worth it.” Would I do it again? No, absolutely not. And would I tell anybody? No, no. But I would like to go back and help the people that are underneath there – if I could get on some type of program or something like that. Whenever you come from a homeless situation whether you’re a vet or not, you always have a sense of wanting to give back, all the time and that’s important, is giving back.
KG: That’s awesome. I don’t have any other questions unless you …
EL: No, no I don’t.
KG: Awesome, thank you so much.
EL: You’re welcome.
KG: Okay, turn this off.
EL: This is for you, your questionnaire.
KG: You can keep that if you want, I brought an extra copy for you.
EL: Okay, cool.
KG: If you wanna hang onto it.