“Is that a mop she’s carrying?” I asked my daughter.
“Looks like it.”
I pulled the car slightly behind the woman, who was making her way across the parking lot taking slow, methodical steps. I happened to have my Canon around my neck with my trusty 50 MM prime attached and ready to go. I went to work quickly, snapping away shots of this curious woman- I didn’t know at the time that she was homeless. It was Valentine’s Day. My daughter, who knows me all too well, said, “You’re not going to stop…”
“Of course I am,” I replied.
My daughter then realized that it was the same woman she’d had a previous encounter with, and not a friendly one at that. The woman had been using a grocery cart and my daughter had recognized the store and had asked her about it, while passing her on the street. The woman fired back a few semi-obscenities and continued on her way.
“You’re going to help her?” she asked.
“Yep.” Said I.
It was then that I recognized her. I had shot the residents at the Haven House (homeless shelter) two Christmas’s before: she was there that day, and allowed me to use her photo as part of the website’s pictorial. I knew that if I approached her with a DSLR around my neck and a myriad of questions, she would be put off. So, I basically rushed her with a big smile and a hug and asked her how she was doing.
“Hey, remember me? We were at the Haven House together!” This isn’t altogether untrue.
I could tell by her expression that she didn’t recognize me, but I held her with my smile and made small talk, making light of my camera. She warmed up to me quickly and began telling me her story.
She wasn’t a junkie, or alcoholic. She was once a registered nurse, who had suffered a series of unfortunate events in her life. She continued sharing her story with me, as we made our way back toward the abandoned train yard where she currently resides. The owner, who is a Christian man, allowed her to move into one of the cars four years ago.
“They call me the caretaker,” she said, pride intact.
“Do you want to see it?” she asked.
“Well yeah!” I said, hardly believing what I was hearing. She went on to tell me that she had no running water, no heat, no air conditioning, no electricity, no medical coverage, no car, no government check, no computer, no cell phone, and very little else.
“You’ve been living here for four years?”
It was all I could do to not break down crying. We have a new, fancy bridge that’s being built in our city that’s costing millions of dollars, connecting Indiana to Kentucky. While that’s great and all, our transitional housing program has been cut- lack of funds.
“What’s your name- first name only?” I asked her.
“Jean, I’m Birgitta.”
And we traded another smile.
“I can’t make any promises Jean, but I’m going to see what I can do for you. Tell me what you need; can you make me a list? I’m going to see what I can do to raise some money for you, ok?”
She made a small list of things, such as AAA batteries and other miscellaneous items, and I gave her my home and cell numbers.
“If there’s anything you can think of, call me, ok?”
Jean shared more of her story with me, and the plights of trying to receive medical treatment while being homeless. Our city’s main hospital, Clark Memorial, has an extended emergency room: the Behavioral Health unit. Because substance abuse is such an endemic problem in Southern Indiana, people who are thought to be mentally ill or exhibiting behavior associated with substance abuse are directed immediately to that area of the ER, and without question. They tell you that it’s simply part of the overflow area where they put people when it’s crowded. Because homeless people are stigmatized much of the time, and filed away quickly straight over to Behavioral health, many homeless people don’t receive the necessary treatment they need.
“I fell off my steps 10 days ago. Look,” Jean said.
She raised her shirt and pulled her pants away from her hip, revealing several large, yellow-green bruises that covered her backside.
“I can’t go to Clark Memorial because they’ll stick me in Behavioral Health.”
This too made me want to cry. I mustered my strength and fought to maintain my composure so that I could finish conducting the interview. Just then, two men with kind eyes and a pair of crutches came walking down the tracks, toward her train car.
“Here ya go, darlin’,” said one of the men to Jean.
And then Jean looked like this:
I introduced myself to them, quickly establishing the necessary street repoire that states clearly, “I’m one of you guys.”
After another quick round of shots, sans the gentlemen, I trotted back to my car, ending our rendezvous. I went back later that night, with a bucket list of things that I wanted to try to do for Jean, and a hot bowl of homemade chicken soup. As I made my way down the dark tracks, it was bitterly cold, and the desolation was palpable. I knocked on Jean’s door and she answered quickly.
“Yes? Who is it?” her voice carried a note of dignity and hospitality. She made her way to the door with a flashlight in her hand.
“It’s me- Birgitta. I have something for you.” I said. “I think you should know that I make the best chicken soup on this side of heaven,” I said with a smile.
That was two days ago. Last night was teeth-chattering freezing. I cried off and on throughout the evening, thinking of Jean in her train car; no lights, no heat, no t.v., no company.
When I mentioned online college, aka distance education, Jean had taken great interest. Having been a registered nurse, she might like to further her education, just as I’m doing. Josh happens to be in possession of a standard size construction trailer. It’s an 8×20 with a built in kitchen nook that looks like a diner from the 50’s, along with a tiny bathroom, door included.
I literally AM the poor, but I can’t keep something that might be of use to somebody else, especially in Jean’s situation. I’ve talked Josh into giving it to Jean, if she’ll be allowed to have it there. At least it has windows. I’m not going to let her know beforehand, but if she can have it, we’re going to fix it up with a bed, pictures (that I can provide myself, being a photographer and all), and other necessary amenities. I love surprising people. 🙂
I’m going to petition several small businesses and ask if they can donate their services (cell phone, laptop, wireless printer, etc.) so we can help Jean get her life back. I have a children’s book I’d like to market and promote, as well as a music album/CD I’d like to compile (being a singer/songwriter musician) and a virtual art gallery to create, but I’m putting everything on hold for a bit so I can at least offer Jean some reprieve. I have a lot of irons in the fire: it’s something that I’m used to.
Did I mention that I have an intestinal virus? And, TMJ (my jaws crack and pop like Rice Krispies when I open and shut my mouth it’s so bad, and extremely painful), scoliosis, and of course, the arachnoid cyst on my brain stem. The car accident back in October compacted every one of these afflictions- I have nerve damage as a result, along with other damaged areas. I’ve been so sick these past few days. (The insurance company, Allstate, who represents the lady who split my bumper, has offered me a paltry $1,700 for my pain and suffering. Um, are you for real Allstate? After I had to drop out of school last semester (with a doctor’s note), repair my GPA, have suffered unthinkable pain and suffering to my overall alignment- in my vertebrae, not my car) and am barely able to hang on to this semester due to all of the stress…and they offer me $1,700. Unbelievable. No, you are NOT in good hands with Allstate.
I could get a lawyer and duke it out for a year or so, but that would mean that I would have to go through the “doctor gauntlet”, being referred here and there. I know the drill- I’m a research hound and stay up on many things.
Poor J- he’s hurting everyday as he continues his decompression therapy several times per week. It’s no picnic! I’m concerned about his liver- he takes a lot of Ibuprofen, but basically, he lives uncomfortably and in pain much of the time. The car accident has absolutely turned our lives upside down.
Because I refuse to take prescription pain medication, and/ or anxiety medication, doctors aren’t sure where to go with me. They’ve suggested a number of medications for me to try, but the majority of the meds double as anti-depressants (the latest fashion in chronic pain meds) but I refuse to be a guinea pig after Topomax almost killed me. They’re quick to diagnose you with a conversion disorder if you’re a chronic pain sufferer, which in short, translates to “it’s all in your head”. (Which in this case, it is. Literally.) I’ll take my chances with cayenne pepper, ginger, green tea, a mile walk (when I can squeeze it in), and other homeopathic avenues.
As much as I regret it, I may have to cut my own throat and take the offer from Allstate simply because I want to set Jean up with an Android cell phone with a paid one year contract. That would at least give her a lifeline to the outside world via the internet.
I’m not driven by money- never have been- never will be. I am, however, going to add a PayPal tab here in this blog (up at the top, later), temporarily, so that whoever may have it upon their hearts to contribute to Jean, will be able to. I’m hoping to be able to collect at least a few thousand dollars for her. This is my target list for Jean, and what I’d like to get for her with outside help:
Medical coverage for 1 year
Inexpensive, but descent car
Paid car insurance for 1 year
Smart phone (Android) + 1 year paid coverage (internet)
Battery powered printer (wireless printer accessible from Smartphone)
Small Generator with (some) gas
Water filtering system (portable)
Jean has given me permission to work on her behalf: Lord knows somebody needs to.
She’s grateful for all of the help.
Josh is going to use his awesome talents and make her a homemade walking stick/cane. We’re going to go soon and select a sturdy tree branch so that he can smoothen it, stain it, and shellac it. It’ll be another nice surprise for her.
If you’d like to make a monetary donation, the PayPal email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Any and all contributions for Jean will be documented, systematically filed, and then made available for public viewing. Thanks again. 🙂
Now I’m going to go and collapse.
The breakup letter worked. It’s been difficult, but I haven’t chewed on my cheek/tongue since I “dumped it”. (Hey, whatever works.)