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Bless Your Heart! Now Leave! Homeless Advocate Kicked Out


Well, Bless Your Heart! Leave!

Tillie in New Mexico

I’ve been kicked out of better places. It was quite unnecessary to refer to “Tillie, the Turtle,” my little motorhome, as an “unsightly nuisance.” Under my breath I muttered,  “Bless your heart” (a southern expression that can mean “you’re so sweet” or “your heart really needs blessing because it’s evil”), as I took the hint and left.

A few days ago I landed in this well-heeled Atlanta suburb at the invitation of a friend whose office sits in one of the bazillion strip malls that, um, grace this metro area. She assured me that parking there would be fine as frog hair so I ran my extension cord, my ticket to heat on these cold spring nights. A bonus, their hot-to-trot wifi that powered my computer like a souped-up GTO. Flat parking, a safe and relatively quiet area, well, I figured too good to be true.

Ironically, I’m here to begin filming a project on homeless families and youth who double up with someone, somewhat like I was doing at my friend’s office. “Sure, you can stay with us,” is a version of the hospitable invitation extended to a desperate, newly homeless friend. Usually the spontaneous offer is issued before checking with the ruling authority, mom, spouse, landlord, roommate, or other vested interest.

Of all the forms of homelessness, and believe me, it’s far beyond the stereotypical grizzled guy on the corner, doubling up is probably the most common, and most invisible. HUD doesn’t count doubling-up as homeless, even though they’ve lost housing and would be looking (often in vain) for emergency shelter if family, friend or acquaintance didn’t take them in.

If everyone who is homeless and doubled-up had to leave their temporary arrangements, we’d have millions more sleeping on the streets and jamming shelters.

Unlike my conspicuous motorhome with HEAR US signage and pictures of kids plastered all over, most “company” maintains a low profile, walking on eggshells, not wanting to upset the apple cart, waiting for the other shoe to drop…and kick them out.

Sometimes the ouster is as insulting as the “unsightly nuisance” slur, aiming to hurt as the door hits your rear on the way out. It can’t help but erode the fragile ego of the visitor whose dwindled resources and loss of housing already piled on the stress. Unlike frugal me, with options and modest resources, the person or family mooching off a friend probably has lint in their pockets. 

With poverty spreading like kudzu, and foreclosures upending neighborhood stability like sinkholes, you think we’d be a little more sympathetic to those in need of help. Some folks are. A recent survey found that the less wealthy a person was, the more compassionate they tended to be. That explains my friend’s wholehearted willingness to plug me in at her office.

Unbeknownst to most people, the generous souls who offer to take someone (family/friend) in who’s experiencing “hard times,” may jeopardize their own subsidized housing if company stays longer than 2 weeks. It’s a HUD regulation enforced by housing authorities.

Absurdly…even if the tenant has space and their guest is almost invisible, they’ve got to go. Sure, they can apply for their own subsidized housing, but wait lists are in the 10-year range. No wonder shelters are at capacity and people flock to the no-tell-motels. Homelessness in a nation with over 9.8 million vacant homes…shameful.

My 8 years of motorhome living has etched indelible marks on my psyche. Far from being loved because I am working for a good cause, HEAR US Inc., giving voice and visibility to homeless children and youth, whenever I don’t “know my place,” and make the mistake of pulling into the wrong neighborhood, the wrong parking lot, or drive down the wrong street, welp, I feel the vibrations. And, as this incident showed, I’m not always just paranoid.

Fortunately, my options include a relative abundance of creature comforts. My recent travel-mate, Pat LaMarche, the other half of the Babes of Wrath traveling team, marveled at the Spartan but adequate comfort of this home/office on wheels. I’ll bounce between the ubiquitous Camp WM parking lots and suck bandwidth from wherever I can.

The only thing that might eventually occur to these inhospitable “haves,” is the reality that there are lots more of us than they think. Poking the hornet’s nest once too often might find you with a bee in your bonnet. Well, bless your heart. I’m metaphorically done.