Faces of Homelessness

Homelessness has many faces. There are as many faces to homelessness as there are people and personalities in the world. Most of us categorize homeless folks into specific stereotypes. We assign them off to various deviant groups and therefore write them off as casualties of their own choices. Not everybody fits these nice neat categories. We need to establish a realistic view of the people who are on the street and in need of services. After spending a month scanning all of our 2019 files into Google Drive (2,371 files), we scheduled our first case management meetings. We gave first priority to the elderly and infirm and women who have children under the age of six. Our first case management sessions interviewed two people who simply blew me away and caused me to need to pick up my chin off the ground.  God really broke my heart and the hearts of our staff members after hearing their stories. They have both agreed to allow me to share their stories. 

The first person we interviewed was Ms. Virginia. Ms. Virginia was born in Kumagaya City, Japan in 1957. Her original birth certificate was written on rice paper.  When she was three months old, her father took her by the ankles and slammed her back and forth against the walls of an abandoned apartment building. Then he left her for dead. Sometime later, a passerby heard faint cries coming from the building, and she ran in and rescued Ms. Virginia. She took her to the hospital, and they kept her there until she was fully rehabilitated. 

A young couple in their mid-twenties adopted Ms. Virginia while they were living in Tokyo. Her mother was from Tokyo, Japan and her father was from Allen Town, PA. Her adoption occurred while her father was stationed in Tokyo in the military. When Ms. Virginia was one-year-old, her adoptive parents moved back to San Francisco, CA. When Virginia was thirteen, her father got stationed at Ft. Knox, KY. She eventually graduated from Jesse Stewart High School in 1977. 

Right out of high school, Ms. Virginia began working in the food service industry. She worked at Pizza Hut and eventually rose to the position of Assistant Manager of a Pizza Hut in Louisville, KY. She worked various jobs as a waitress and eventually met her husband. She has three children and eight grandchildren. 

At the age of 43, Ms. Virginia had a stroke, and during her time in the hospital she was evicted from her apartment and lost everything. At that time, two of her children lived with her and the other child had already turned 18. She and her two children were homeless at Wayside Christian Mission in Louisville, KY. The stroke caused the left side of her body to be partially paralyzed. Because of her disability she immediately got SSI disability and Medicaid. However, she could not ever save up enough money for the first months rent and deposit while caring for her two children. So she sent her two younger kids to Columbus, IN, to live with their father. She left Wayside in 2003, and was taken into the Haven House Shelter because it was easier for her to not be put out during the day due to her disability. 

In 2013, Ms. Virginia was accepted into Haven House Services, Inc transitional housing program. In 2018, Ms. Virginia’s second bout with homelessness began when the transitional housing she was living in caught fire and burned to the ground.  For a second time, Ms. Virginia lost everything. Ms. Virginia is soft spoken, articulate, and full of wisdom. She has a high aptitude for upper level mathematics. She is one of our “adopted” children that have had health complications at an early age and doesn’t meet the minimum age requirement for long-term nursing home care. Because of the shortage of transitional housing and group home beds, she has had very few options. We are currently working with her on getting accepted into an assisted living facility on a Medicaid waiver. She turns 63 years next week and I hope to celebrate with her.  

The second case management meeting we held concerned Ms. Linda who was born in New Albany, IN to a young unwed mother in 1954. Her birth mom and her adoptive parents shared the same doctor. The doctor knew that Ms. Linda’s adoptive parents couldn’t conceive, and he knew that her birth mom wanted to give her up for adoption.  The doctor called the welfare office and arranged the adoption. 

She was raised in New Albany, IN, on a farm off Grant Line Rd. that her family owned. She graduated from New Albany High School in 1972. She never married and was living with her parents until their death. When her parents passed, she sold their small family farm and moved into an apartment with her friend. She worked full-time at the Census Bureau in a temporary position on and off for 13 years. She also worked as a security guard for Moore Security, who was then bought out by Securitas for 8 years. 

In 2012, she started having trouble with her feet that developed into neuropathy that caused her to be unable to stand and walk on her feet for extended periods of time. After about three months of struggling with the pain, she was unable to keep up with her bills and so she was evicted from her apartment. After being evicted she came to Haven House Services, Inc. and after a year was accepted on disability. She has retinal detachment in both eyes and cataracts in both eyes. She is scheduled to have surgery on her eyes in April. She is scheduled to meet with Lifespan to get a Medicaid waiver for assisted living.  Ms. Linda is polite, helpful, and has a kind-hearted disposition. 

It is our hope to get both of these ladies into permanent housing in the coming months. It has been said that, “The greatness of a nation is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” My hope is that Southern Indiana still shows its compassion toward the most vulnerable members of society by hearing their stories and treating them with dignity. After these case management meetings, I felt in my heart “these are the people that God has sent us as His church to reach and minister to.”  Deuteronomy 26:12 says, “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.” If we call ourselves Christian, then the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the homeless have been given to us to care for. My prayer is that our love for the “least of these” grows when we hear their stories and see their faces.

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