Former Social Worker with a Master’s Degree Homeless in Charlotte

Former Social Worker with a Master’s Degree Homeless in Charlotte


– [Interviewer] Michelle? – Yes, good morning. – We’re here in Charlotte. You’re homeless. You’re educated, smart, out here strugglin’, tell me about it. – Well, I lost my job and my apartment within two weeks of each other ’bout two years ago. I had to make some quick decisions, and had my daughter to
stay with her godmother for what I thought was
going to be about 60 days, at the most 90. And we are approaching two years. I’ve lost everything
that I owned in storage, and I have learned to navigate through the homeless process by just pullin’ on different skill sets that I’ve had or developed growin’ up. Outside of my academic education, there’s just some things that you have to learn
to maneuver and navigate when you find yourself on the street, and having to adjust to that subculture. So,
– It is a subculture, and there’s no homelessness
for dummies book you can buy. – No, but I might write one (laughs). – (laughs)That would be
actually a good thing. – And, you know, there are also a lot of prejudices and a lot of unfair treatment and a lot of micro-aggressions, as we say, and there’s a lot of marginalization of the homeless because people think
that we are invisible. We are not invisible. But if they treat us that way, then they don’t have to see the problem, they don’t have to recognize
the problem for what it is. And that is a lack of affordable housing, a lack of interest to rehabilitate people and help people to find jobs and housing. Even more importantly, clean clothes and a place to take a shower. We’re out here next to a hotel who has never yet offered a shower when they’re not fully booked. Or a place to sleep when
they’re not fully booked. And they are a private establishment, it’s their right to do so, but we are all humans and should be entitled to humane treatment from our counterparts ’cause we won’t always be homeless, and we weren’t born like this. But we will always be human. – So, you’re talking about
cultural sensitivity. – (sniffs) Yes. – And why is that important? – It’s important because
there are professionals and there’s the working class people that look at the homeless as if we want to be this way. Or that we have made this choice willingly and knowingly
and that’s not the case. And the downward spiral
that many experience when homelessness occurs, it is a systematic breakdown of everything that you know to be true, and you have to adjust to people – [Man] (talking loudly)
in your society, people,
– For real! people, treating you differently because you might not have had a change of clothes for a few days or been able to have
a bath for a few days. And, there are no considerations, and there’s no mechanism in
place to assist with that. And it needs to be so and people need to be able to understand what this experience is. It’s not fun, it’s not
fun to live in a tent when you don’t have any bug spray. (chuckles)
– [Interviewer] Yeah. Or you don’t have a
torchlight, you know (sniffs), or you don’t have a
partner to watch you back. Those people that are out here all the way by themselves
have it even worse. – Yeah. – Sometimes you don’t get to sleep if there’s no safe place to sleep. – Now, when we pulled up,
I’m with an outreach team, and they were looking for somebody and you told them – (sniffs)
they passed away. Or, you told the outreach
team, the friend, your friend, passed away. That’s horrible. – It is. It is, he was just the
first person I met out here, when I came out here to live, and he, he was my friend. And I know I loved him very much because this particular individual did not have an
opportunity to bathe daily. He might sometimes have gone
months without taking a bath. And to be willin’ to sit next to somebody and drink a beer that smells that bad, you gotta love ’em and I was
willing’ to do it any day because of who he was to me. My big brother. (sniffs) Red. My friend.
– I’m so sorry. Hey guys. You have a master’s degree. – I do. – And other education. – I do (sniffs). – And you’re out on the streets. – I am. – That totally shatters most stereotypes. – (softly chuckles) – You know, people think
people out here are here because of their own choice and they’re uneducated and here you are with a master’s degree and you’re sleeping outside. – Well, that’s because
(car revs) (coughs) ‘scuse me. Our, I really think it’s because of, you know, the politics of our state, and our culture here in
Charlotte, in North Carolina. If I had been paid
commensurate to my credentials and my experience, I probably would not have been in a situation where I lost my apartment. I was working in mental health and I wasn’t being paid correctly, and thus I was not be
able to make my rent. I fell behind and then
worked for a non-profit. Not being paid appropriately. Lost my apartment, I’m a single mom. – So now, your degree is in Social Work? – My bachelor’s degree
is in Special Education and Elementary Education with a concentration in
Developmental Disabilities and Mental Retardation (sniffs). My master’s degree is in
Adult Education and Training and I was en route to
completing my second master’s in Clinical Mental Health Therapy and I have additionally completed four to five classes on Doctorate level of Human Services Administration. – Now, tell me a day, what a day is like. You said you start off
the mornin’ flyin’ a sign. – Well, you start off the morning lookin’ for somethin’ to eat, and you might be able to
get a hotdog or a soda from the gas station in the area. Dependin’ on the weather, you might go fly a sign, you might see if there’s any opportunities to make money on the street. You know, sometimes one
of the establishments need somebody to help for stocking or maybe cleanin’ up,
but that’s very rare. Sometimes people need help on the street with different types of transactions and you can find a way to come up with another
extra 20, $30 in your pocket. If you’re able to maneuver or negotiate something.
– Everybody out here has a game. Everybody does.
They’re always hustlin’. Everybody does.
Ans it’s survival! – (sniffs) Absolutely. – If you don’t hustle, you’re not gonna make it.
– You don’t, yeah. You eat what you kill and if
you don’t kill you don’t eat. – Well, people think that
homeless people wanna be out here. They don’t, they see us as lazy. They don’t see
– Wow. everyday you gotta set up a tent, everyday you gotta walk for water. There’s no days off,
there’s no vacation days. And it’s work. – Well, I used to be a State
Certified Special Educator. I’ve worked in mental health. I have worked in various
public school systems. I’ve worked with at risk youth, I’ve worked with marginalized populations, and I never expected to be on this side of homelessness. However, one or two bad paychecks
can put anybody out here. – But survival everyday is, there’s no, people think we’re lazy and homeless people are not lazy. – I, when I fly a sign, I walk up and down that
median so many times. Just, lazy is, it doesn’t apply (light chuckle). You know,
– And– and you’re always hustling
and you’re always moving because the cops are always telling you you can’t sit here or
it’s private property, or you have to find someplace else to go, and you have to find a
way to stash your clothing if you do have a supply of
clothing and some of us don’t. Sometimes you have to shoplift to get clean clothes if you can’t wash ’em.
– Survival. Sometimes you have to – Do things you don’t wanna do. – Do some things you don’t wanna do, but, most of the time
they’re things you have to do just to be safe or to guarantee your survival or your meal for the day
or your bed for the night. And that is just part of the subculture
– Yeah. that so many professionals
and everyday people don’t even know really exists. – Would you say, ’cause I know for me, it killed my spirit. I’ve done things when I was homeless that I’ll never tell anybody, and it’s gonna stay with
me the rest of my life. And every time I did something like that, it took a little piece
away from my humanity. – Mm-hm. (sniffs) And sometimes you
have to step outside yourself and rationalize for what the
bigger picture really is, and the bigger picture is that each and every one of us out here, I’ve never met such a beautiful and more intelligent group of people than my engagement with
the homeless population, and meeting folks and knowing
their story a little bit. You know, what goes on beyond the street, like, in-between their ears. Like, I’ve met people who
are college professors and I met people who have
trust funds waiting for them if they only make different
choices for themselves. I’ve met people who’ve owned ski lodges in Aspen, or people who come from
money or people who don’t. But, the point is that
everyone that I’ve met is an individual. We’re not homeless Jan and
homeless Mary and homeless Bob. There are people with a story and feelings and goals that might not have been met, but still have the ability
to set goals for themselves. – Now, you were talkin’ about hospitals not helping people, turning people away. Talk about that a little bit.
– Yes (sniffs). I’ve met some people who’ve
had some serious medical issues and their issues have not
been able to be addressed because, reason given, they
are homeless, and that’s wrong. It should not happen in 2019 in the United States of America. Obama Care, Medicare,
whatever you wanna call it, people need to care.
– Yeah. People care is what we need.
– I like that. We need to call it people care. – People care, you know,
and it’s really sad that folks need medicine, folks have, especially when you’re homeless, you got a lotta stuff that
goes on with your skin if you sleep outside and people are not able
to get their needs met or their issues addressed because of their station, their status. And I’ve had to stop and think if this we’re a day when
I had on my business suit and my very fancy pocketbook
and shoes to match, would I be spoken to like this? Would I be treated this way? And the answer is no, I wouldn’t. And again, it’s a much deeper seeded prejudice than racism and what we
experience as people of color or people of faith or people who don’t speak English do. It is beyond that, it’s pervasive and it’s deeply ingrained in
our society at this point, and it’s wrong. Homelessness is a temporary situation for some. For some–
– Well, we should make it temporary for all.
For all, exactly. Anybody, we should,
However, we should prevent homelessness and then, oh, I’m sorry.
however, yeah, there are those who
choose to live this way and we can’t forget about
those people either. – I, so I think
And, people give up. I think everybody that’s come
out here has tried to get help and,
– And that might be so. it’s called learned helplessness
which you understand because of your background. – And I agree with that, but I also think that there’s some people that just like–
– (murmurs) No, it think they just like
not having the responsibility. And if you can accept that and
you come to terms with that, that’s one thing I think that others get lost because they’re not able
to advocate for themselves or they’re not able to find the right avenues to get what they need, you know. (sniffs)
– There is a small group of people that I call nomads. – Yeah, exactly.
They’re, – The wanderers, yeah. True homelessness is absence of choice. – Exactly. – Like, they can make a decision
and go rent an apartment, but somebody like you, you would love to go take a shower and have a safe place but
you don’t have that choice. – Right.
That’s the difference between being a nomad
– (sniffs) and being homeless. – Absolutely. – Don’t you agree? – I do, I do. – What would you want
housed people to know about homelessness that
they probably don’t know? – Don’t take you laundry room for granted or the roof over your head for granted. I remember hearing that Americans do not have a lot of savings. I can’t quote the statistic, but, overall, we do not, we have more credit card
debt than we do have savings. And, in a recession, this
can happen to anybody. (softly)Can happen to anybody. – And times are gonna get tough again. – It can happen
If you had three wishes, to anybody.
what would they be? – Three wishes, one. To be financially stable and not homeless, that would be number one for sure. Number two, if I could just change
somethin’ in our society or develop a foundation or a non-profit or an effective organization, not just in name, in action! You know, to be able to help people who have fallen through the cracks. I would be glad to do that. And, my third wish would be, to make my little girl proud of me. – Great wish.
To be able to, yeah, take this experience and help other people because I, I understood, I worked in transitional housing before and I understand the
nature of homelessness and so on and so forth. But having lived it on this level, I’ll never be the same. – Well, as we were talkin’ earlier – (sniffs) and I shared
(coughs) a little bit about my background, you’ll make it happen. I have faith in you. – Thank you. – Well, thank you very
much for talkin’ to me. – You’re welcome. – Thank you for listenin’
and recognizing me today. (upbeat digital music)

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