After her divorce, Margaret managed to keep homelessness at bay while her children remained at home, even if it meant living in substandard housing. Once they were grown, however, the burden of finding housing became too much for Margaret. At the suggestion of a friend, she contacted a soon-to-be-opened women’s shelter. Within a few months, she was living in the shelter as a housemother. Margaret lived in the shelter for four years. She used this time not only to help other women, but also as an opportunity to work through her own issues. She also completed two years of college while living in the shelter. Deciding she needed to follow her own advice to other women, Margaret began seeking housing of her own. With the help of her church, she was able to purchase a used mobile home, which she now owns, along with the accompanying land, outright. After securing housing, Margaret began working for Upstate Homeless Coalition as a caseworker. Ten years later, she is now leaving her position as caseworker to work on the computer system at UHC. Once again, she is following her own advice to stay challenged and follow where opportunity leads.
Celena: My name is Celena. I am 33 years old. Back in 1999 was when I became homeless, and my story can work on both ways because I was a person who was in church, but not in church. And sometimes God will get tired of you playing games with him, and he’ll make a believer out of you. So that’s really what happened to me because I wanted to live on both sides of the fence. I wanted to club and party but at the same time go and sing in the choir on Sunday. You know what I’m saying? You know how it is. And I…God had just blessed me with a good job at Greenville Hospital. I was making $13 an hour, coming from Spartanburg Regional making just 9. Going there doing the same thing and making 13, being a single parent. And he had blessed me with a car before I had got the job at Greenville Hospital. I got a car with no job. You know that’s not possible. You know what I’m saying. So you know. It’s not possible. No paycheck stub, no job, and I got a car. But He just blessed with me that car, and I only had a year to pay on that car. So I was doing good on my job. I was still wildin’ out. And it was one Sunday, I had came from church, which I had showed out on my so-called boyfriend that night. But I had went to church, and the first time I heard God speak to me was personally was take my kids home when I was going up 85. I was like, take my kids home, take my kids home. So, I took my kids home. I was obedient for the first time in my life. And I was coming back down 290, and this little lady kept looking at me. And I had a car accident. And if my kids had been in the car with me, they probably would have been dead. And I remember the minister had told me two weeks before that, he said, “What is it going to take for you? Is it going to take God taking His hands off you? Is it going to take for God to take your kids for you to do right?” I was like, “No, Sir.” You know how you listen, but you don’t listen, because I was young, you know? I was young, like, I got all the time in the world, you know. I can play, and I got all the time in the world to be with God. And I thought about that when I had the car accident. And I looked over the passenger side seat, and my car was crushed all the way up to the middle. And I was like okay, God, whatever you do, just please don’t take my kids. He honored that. Two weeks, everything was gone. My job was gone. My car was gone. The man who hit me, his insurance company didn’t give me a rental car but for one week, and I worked all the way in Greenville. I lived in Duncan. So that was gone. Me and my kids lived in a hotel for two months off of my last two paychecks from Greenville Hospital. I went to go sign up for my unemployment. They denied me. I went to DSS. They knew where I was staying at, you know, I told them everything. They wouldn’t give me no help, no food stamps, no nothing. So my kids had missed like days out of school, and I was like, oh my God, they’re going to come and take my kids away from me because I couldn’t get them all the way back to Duncan. You know, so finally I called my daughter’s godmother, and we got them at Pine Street. And she would come and pick them up from the hotel and take them to school for me. And then the money ran out for the hotel, and I was like, what am I going to do? So I finally went to the shelter. So I went to the shelter, and I was very disgusted, very depressed. So when I was in that room, you know, thoughts of suicide was going through my head, you know. If I kill myself, who’s going to take care of my kids? So I’ll just kill my kids, then I’ll kill myself. But that wasn’t in me to do that. You know what I’m saying? You get all kind of crazy thoughts in your head when you just don’t know what to do. You know, there’s no other way to go, what am I going to do? I just thought I was going to lose my mind. And, you know, here I was, I was independent, you know, taking care of my kids by myself. Nobody else was going to do it. So I was like, okay now, what am I going to do? So, I went to the shelter, and I stayed at the shelter one day shorter than a year. And this lady named Miss Patty Kelly…have y’all ever heard of Miss Patty Kelly? She has a furniture ministry. I forgot which church she goes to. It’s one of the First Baptist’s. I don’t know which one, or if she still goes there. But she has a furniture ministry, and she used to come and do devotion at the shelter. Very sweet woman, and she told me about the Upstate Homeless Coalition. So that’s when I called Glenda, and that’s when I had got, you know, access to that. And I did all my stuff, and I still think it was like maybe three months…before I called Glenda I got a job, and that’s when I was working at the Dialysis Clinic. And even trying to get a job, and you use the shelter as your address, nobody will hire you. Because they think everybody that stays in a homeless shelter is either on drugs, prostitute, you been in prison, or you got this horrible background that nobody wants to deal with you. You see what I’m saying? So that was an obstacle because it took me the longest. I know I was qualified for certain jobs. You know what I’m saying? So I got smart. I said okay. I use my mama’s P.O. box. That’s when I got hired. You know, but when you’re there, you know, what other address and what other phone number are you going to use to get contacted? You know, if you don’t have money for a cell phone, I mean you out of luck. But when people look at those applications, even now I go back to the homeless shelter and do a Bible study and it’s like, “we can’t find jobs.” I say, “Stop using this address.” They stop using the address, most of them have jobs now. And it’s sad. You know what I’m saying? That you would look at one address, but you really haven’t got to know me.
UHC: What address were you using?
Celena: The 189 N. Church Street. The one to the shelter. Used to be Downtown Rescue Mission, but now it’s Miracle Hill.
UHC: You say they stopped using that, and then they were able to get jobs?
Celena: I don’t know whose address they were using. Maybe they were using like a friend or family member’s. But once they stopped using that address then they begin to get employment even through temporary agency. So you know people look at that. Because I remember one time we were there at the shelter, and it was on a Saturday and Spartanburg Methodist would bring in a group of kids to come in and do, I guess it was their Christian outreach thing. And one of the guys he was different from the other lady that used to bring them out. He was like, “Look at these people. They were dropped off here by families or the cops, and they’re out of prison. And they’ve been prostitutes on the street, and some of them have killed people.” And we was looking around like “What is he saying?” (She laughs.) You know? Who is he relating to because that’s not us. And we laughed. And one of the little guys that always came before, he came over, you know. He would sit down and chit-chat with us because I was silly. I like to act silly, and I said, “Will you please tell all your friends, you know, that that’s not, some people just have misfortunes in life, you know.” And he was like, “We don’t pay him any attention.” But some of the kids actually really scared some of the kids, because they was like, “Oh my God, I can’t go over there and talk to them.” You know, [??] if I had went somewhere like that [?] I ain’t going over there and talking to them. That’s how people label homeless people. Everybody that’s homeless has not been on drugs. Everybody, you know, some people just messed up. I mean, you know, because if I don’t have money saved, then I’m still just one paycheck away from being homeless. You know what I’m saying? So, that’s with anybody. People don’t ever realize it and look at it that way, but if you ain’t got enough money to sustain you until you find another job, you’re one step away. And what if I come home and my house is burned down?
UHC2: Now how did you lose your job at Greenville Hospital?
Celena: Because I didn’t have transportation to get back and forth so when I did get a ride sometimes I was late. And you know it was still in my 90-day probationary period. So I had a car accident in my 90-day probationary period. I messed up my ankle, then I had to go back and forth to the doctor. So they were looking at all of that. So, you know, instead of excusing because it was a car accident, they labeled that as me missing too many days in my 90 day probationary period.
UHC2: You said that you went to DSS and tried to get food stamps, and they denied you?
UHC2: Why did they deny you?
Celena: I have no clue. You know, and she knew where I lived. So the only other obstacle I can say is that God closed doors until you get yourself right. You know that’s the only way because even when I went to the shelter, and it was like that first night and I was like, “God, I’m at my lowest point in life. You know I have nobody but You to depend on.” I didn’t have to go back to DSS. The next day I went back and checked my EBT card, and it had almost $900 worth of food stamps on it. And she denied me. So I can only say it was by the grace of God.
UHC: She denied you?
Celena: She denied me. Yeah. I just checked it. They never sent me anything in the mail saying they’re going to approve or anything. I just checked, and it was there. That’s the only explanation I can give anybody is that God did it. Even when my unemployment they denied me. Soon as that next day after the food stamps I got three unemployment checks in the mail. Three. And they had denied me. So I couldn’t, there was no explanation for it because I called and asked them did they make a mistake. And they was like, no you were approved, but when I was in the office you told me I wasn’t approved. So that’s the only explanation I got. And I collected my unemployment for a year. Well not for a year, for about six months until I found a job.
UHC: And you said that the job that you found was with the Dialysis Center?
Celena: The Dialysis Clinic. Uh-hmm.
UHC: And where is that?
Celena: It’s on Triad Street. Up highway 29, off of, right by Reeves Bros, like you’re turning out to go to Reeves Bros. That’s the Dialysis Clinic right there on the corner. So it’s right there.
UHC: Were you in dialysis work before?
Celena: No, just in the health field. They trained me as a nurse and secretary. But I always did, when I first started out, I started working in the emergency room in Spartanburg Regional. So I had the, some of the medical background, but not the extensive medical background that they needed. So they trained me. So once I got that training I left there, and then I came back, I think I went to Mary Black in orthopedics. Then after I left orthopedics I came back to Spartanburg Regional.
UHC2: How did homelessness affect your children?
Celena: Their grades went down. My son is very…they are very intelligent kids. My son…Cece [her youngest daughter] was too little to remember a lot of things.
UHC: This was from ’99 to 2000?
Celena: Yes. She was a baby. She was only one when I became homeless. And his grades went down, because that’s my boy, you know. And my middle one, that’s my girl, but she’s like that nonchalant, she don’t show her feelings on the outside, and he was worried about his mama. That’s just a boy’s instinct to worry about their mom. But after, you know, we got to the shelter, even going to the shelter, they were an inspiration to me because they didn’t mind. I was the one who had a problem with it. You know what I’m saying? And it was like, okay, let your kids be an example. And, you know, my daughter go back to school, “Oh we live in this big house with a whole bunch of people. We got a big family.” I’m like, you don’t tell people where you live at, you know, because you know some people stipulate that. And they were going to Pine Street so I was like, “Hush your mouth. You don’t go back and tell because they’ll make you move.” You know, because we weren’t in their district anymore.
UHC: Where were they going?
Celena: To Pine Street. Yeah, because see, when we were at the hotel that was in Pine Street school district, but the mission wasn’t in Pine Street school district. It was Cleveland and Jesse Boyd district.
UHC: So they had to move to…how many schools were they in within that given year?
Celena: Within that year, they left from Duncan Elementary to Pine Street, and I kept them in Pine Street. I wasn’t supposed to, but I kept them in Pine Street until we got our apartment, and I moved them to Jesse Bobo. So within that timeframe of being homeless, they went to two different schools. Because I was the kind of mother, I didn’t want them switching a whole lot of schools. You know what I’m saying? Because trying to friends and trying settle in, it’s not good for young kids. So that part was we were fine on. Once we got leveled and in the shelter, their grades went back up. So it was like just that time frame that everything was shaky. Because kids know when stuff is wrong with their parents. I mean, they know. They know now, if I walk in they go “What’s wrong, Mama? Did you have a hard day?” They know. But that part, they went to two different schools. Cece was too little. My poor baby. I had to potty train her early because I couldn’t afford Pampers. So she was only one. So she got potty trained when she was about 16 months old. Yeah. So it was a time.
UHC: So, let’s try to pin down some of the specifics in terms of the timeline. The car accident happened, and then you said around, it took about 2 months for…
Celena: The money to run out?
UHC: The money to run out. So you couldn’t stay in your apartment. And then you moved into the hotel?
Celena: No. When I…what happened was, when I had the car accident, me and my best friend, we were roommates.
Celena: So I knew when I didn’t have a job, you know, that was going to cause confusion. So, because there was already some confusion there anyway, because I was paying all the bills and she wasn’t paying her part. So I left. Because I knew once I didn’t have a job, I didn’t need to be staying there because I couldn’t afford to pay. Because I was paying most of the bills anyway, I knew I couldn’t afford to keep paying them by myself, and not have anything. So I left and went to the hotel. She later on got put out because she wasn’t disciplined. She wasn’t responsible enough to pay bills, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. (She laughs.) But that’s when I went to the hotel, and that’s when I, you know, lapsed out the last two paychecks as much as I could. And I tell you what, before I went to the mission I stayed with a friend girl of mine for a little bit. And then I went back to the hotel when I had got some money. I had saved up some money. And then that’s when that money run out. Then I went to the shelter. Now she was a friend. She’s dead now. She died last year of cancer, breast cancer. But she was a true friend, because she was like, [?], but you know she was having it hard too, because she was a single parent. So I didn’t want to put no more on her than she already had, you know, with her kids and everything.
UHC: So after the second time in the hotel you went back to the mission?
Celena: No, I never went to the mission before. I was dead set on it, I was not going. I was dead set I was not going to no shelter because I didn’t know what kind of people was up in there. And I was taking my kids, because you see I had the same mentality that the man from Spartanburg Methodist had. You see what I’m saying? So sometimes God have to do things and show you. You know I call it putting the smack down on you to give you a little touch of reality because I tell people God will put the smack down on you. If He want to get you, he get you, you know. But when I first went there, and I was like “oh God.” I keeping my kids up under me. “Y’all don’t go nowhere without me. And you don’t do this without me.” And I go to the bathroom with them and we go, but you know, but the kids had to stay with you anyway at the shelter. So you know they couldn’t be off by themselves because of you know stuff like that. But it was like I was just [?] when I got there, it was so nice, you know what I’m saying? It was very nice. It was, you know how you just look from the outside and you think oh my God, you know, what’s going on? But it was really nice, because we had our own room. They put us three beds in one room. We had our own little chest of drawers, our own little, you know closet and what not. You stayed in your rooms. It’s not like that now. Now it’s more like an open space, and they’re all bunks. So we had it made. Because when you got little kids, you know you don’t want to get on people’s nerves. Because Cece cried all the time. She was a crybaby. Whoa, she cried all the time. But it was better then, because you had your own private space. You had the day room, and then you could have a tv in your room as long as you paid to have a tv in your room once you had the money to do it. But it was a whole lot nicer than what I expected it to be. And I met some good people in there. I met some lifetime friends in there. So it was…it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. You know, but at the same time, I didn’t want to get comfortable, because then there was no stipulation to how long you could stay there. Because there was one woman who had been living there for seven years. I mean she had it set up like it was her own apartment in her room. But you know her grandkids would visit her on the weekend. But, you know, I was like, okay, this is not going to be my home forever.
UHC: Did you have to pay anything to stay there? Because I know some places you have to pay.
Celena: Oh yeah. You work, well, even if you got a welfare check, you paid to stay there. When you work, when I started working I paid more to stay there then I did to pay them for rent a month. So I paid them $150 every two weeks when I got paid at the shelter. We had to be in by 5:15. You could not go back out after 5:15. Saturdays you got to stay out ‘til 6. Sundays after church, you could not go back out. So you were stuck there. Now they got a little bit more leeway. They can go out until 9 o’clock and come back in at 9. You know weekends they can stay out. They can even get weekend passes now. They gave me a pass one time so I could go see my baby sister graduate from her Air Force boot camp. And so they let me go to Texas. It was hard to get their approval, but they let me go to Texas to go see her graduate from boot camp. But it was…it’s totally different now than it was then. Because it was more stricter rules than when I lived there. But yeah, you paid.
UHC2: Do you think there are a lot of resources for homeless people in Spartanburg?
Celena: No. Not enough.
UHC: What are the resources that are lacking the most thinking back on it?
Celena: Being a single parent, my obstacle was transportation and daycare. Daycare is so expensive. And even though you get the ABC voucher, they only give it to you for 2 years. You know what I’m saying?
UHC: What are ABC vouchers?
Celena: Where they’ll pay for your kids to go to daycare. You only get it for two years. Okay, saying when my two years was up and when I was working at DC I was only making $9.80 an hour. With three kids, you got…because once you get that there are no more food stamps. And there’s no more food stamps. You still got your Medicaid, but after that if you got rent, even though we still wasn’t paying the full rent to the Upstate Homeless Coalition. I mean that’s…the Upstate Homeless Coalition is a very good program, very good program. After that you, you know, if you have a car payment, because you got to have transportation to get back and forth to work, gas, insurance, phone, you know you got to keep that, daycare for her because she was full-time daycare when I was up under the program because she was just two then. She was three, three to four. It was eighty-something dollars a week just for her. Just for her. And it’s probably even more than that now, because that’s back, we talking about 2000. It’s 2008 now. It was eighty-something dollars just for her a week. I got paid every two weeks. You see what I’m saying? So once they, the older two for the after school program, it was like, almost $50 a piece for them. So I’m looking at almost $200 a week just for daycare. It’s not including rent, gas, light bill, you know what I’m saying? Even though I didn’t have to pay my light bill up under the Upstate Homeless Coalition, which was a blessing, you know, but when all that was over, you see what I’m saying? I would have had all these expenses. I would have had $500 rent, the $200 car payment, the hundred-and-something money insurance, plus daycare. How? Plus groceries? How? And now they got an extra tax on groceries, I mean, how? I mean with growing kids, you know it’s like, you rob Peter to pay Paul every moment if you don’t have. Because it’s like now, still I’m married, I work two jobs, really I work three. My husband works two. I mean you know, so, it’s like, and then you got kids that’s in sports, you know if you want to have a little bit extra to do stuff with them you got to, got to work. And I work at Spartanburg Regional. I work at the Spartanburg Children’s Shelter on the weekend, Saturday and Sunday, just two days. But I also do hair. So when I get off at Spartanburg Regional, I’m going to the shop to do hair. When I leave the shop to do hair on the weekend, I’m going there to 11:00 at night. Sunday I go to church. After church, I come here, and then I go there until 11:00 at night. And then Monday it’s time to go back to work and start all over again. Too much. It’s too much. And my husband works all day Wal-mart part time. Then you get your little two days off a week at Wal-mart, but still you got other stuff to do. So you’re making up for the time when you ain’t had everything else to do. So there’s really like…But it’s all, even now him and I we don’t have that many bills. That’s the smart thing. When you grow up, don’t make bills. Don’t make bills. Seriously. And learn how to save. Even now, like I’ve been trying to teach my kids, save your money. Just because you want something don’t mean you have to spend your money on everything, you know what I’m saying? Not right now, anyway, you know you got it, and you got extra, and you know you still can put back, then you do it. Because that was one of the stipulations up under the Upstate Homeless Coalition was getting out of debt and saving your money. And it seemed like every time I saved, every time I saved, something would go up wrong with the car where you got to go get the car repaired. Or you got to get this, or you got to get this and it take up all your little savings, and it’s just like when the program was gone, it’s like okay, back to reality now. You know what I’m saying? So it’s like even now I don’t have, like I said, I don’t have that many bills. It’s just stuff that I want to continue to keep paying off my credit. Always keep your credit good. Credit cards leave them alone. Maybe one for emergencies. That’s it. But I’m serious. I’m very serious. That’s what I’m teaching my kids.
Crystal found herself homeless after freeing herself from a controlling and abusive husband. She went to a safe house for abused women with her two children: her daughter, who was two years old, and her son, who was barely a few months old. While at the safe house, Crystal met Sandra, another resident of the home, and learned about the Upstate Homeless Coalition. She and Sandra both received apartments from the Coalition in the same community and have continued their friendship. They view each other, as well as the Upstate Homeless Coalition, as an important support system. Crystal works full time and is actively saving money towards her future. She said, “I’m taking itty-bitty steps. In five years I hope to have enough money saved up to be in some kind of home of my own.” Crystal illustrates what an important difference the Upstate Homeless Coalition can make in the lives of those who have been helped. The changes in her life have moved beyond the tangible situation of having a home. As Crystal explains, “I’m beginning to know what I want: out of myself, out of a relationship, and out of my life in general. And that’s going to help me in taking the steps to getting what I want. That’s going to help me be the person that I want to be.
As I was growing up my father would terrorize me. He would chase me grab my hair and
hit me in the head until I would almost pass out. He would yell at me and say things to
put me in my place. I had no choice but to put up with it. I was too young to do anything
about it. I was so young I didn’t have a clue what I could have done to make him react the
way he did. The one person I should have been able to trust I couldn’t. That is why even
today I have problems with trust. At age 15 I was raped. I got pregnant but 6 weeks later I
lost it. My parents never knew about it. I had to deal with it all alone. All this happened
while my father kept up his abuse and the older I got the worse it got. At age 18 I ended
up in prostitution looking for the love I never had. At 22 I was addicted to gambling and
drinking and because of this I lost everything. At age 23 I was pulled into the woods and
attacked. At 30 I was sexually active again and got pregnant again but this time my mom
found out. She said if my dad found out he would kill me so she insisted I have an
abortion. I’m thinking I have to kill my baby or risk getting killed myself. This is why I
have no respect for my own life. My father has been dead for nine years and he is still
influencing my life. Ag age 34 I got married but for the wrong reason so it was doomed
from the beginning. I got married to get away from my father’s abuse. Little did I know I
was getting away from my father but the abuse continued. My husband would abuse me
by not touching me or in the end not even sleeping with me. After 4 years of this I left
him but my reception at home was cold. They didn’t want me back either. After several
years of trying to make it on my own I went back to prostitution. At age 39 my father
died and I thought the abuse was over. The abuse continues even today. To remember to
go over and over it is a type of abuse. At 41 was the first time I tried to take my life. I
swallowed a hand full of pills. At age 45 I have been homeless for a year and one half.
Now I am 46 it has been a year I almost lost my life at the hands of a drugged up man
who attacked me as I slept. Then I moved here to a place where I knew no one. Again, I
am alone trying to cope with it all.
I try to cope with all of it and when something happens (real or perceived) I react to it.
This is called Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. The enclosed information may help you
understand what is going on with me.
This is why I kept telling you that I don’t react well to stress. I don’t like being like this. I
don’t like to hurt people. That is why I admit when I have said something wrong but
people use that to make decisions based on accumulated facts instead of a case by case
I moved to Anderson Oct. 25, 06 not because I wanted to. It was the only way I could get
off of the street. I moved from Miami, FL in 1980 and lived in Greenville for 26 years.
My father died 1999 and my mother moved back to FL in 2002. I have a brother who
lives in Greenville that I have not talked to for 12 years. For all intensive purpose I have
no family here.
At 46 I am no closer to understanding myself than I have ever been. I have NO support.
No one helping me find out. They have told me what is wrong with me but no help to
correct it. Over the years I’ve asked for help but they only tell me what they think not
taking into consideration what I think.
According to them this is who I am:
They know what to do for the first two but the third one who knows.
As written by Donna to her case manager, when first entering the TRANSITIONS 2000
Pseudonyms for Interview #9 This husband and wife moved to South Carolina to find work, but his income was simply not enough to pay all of their bills. Soon they found themselves homeless and living in their car with their two small children. After overhearing a conversation about the Upstate Homeless Coalition, they decided to contact them. UHC was able to provide them with housing and help them get back on their feet. Now, instead of living in a cramped car, their children have their own bedrooms and are enjoying the playground. Since obtaining housing, the wife has returned to college. They hope to one day have their own home. Until then, they are looking to help others who have struggled like them.
The Kramer family could very well represent a good majority of American families, and they show how easily homelessness can happen to any of us. Mr. Kramer was a successful district manager for a shoe company, having left a career as an insurance salesman. The family moved to South Carolina from North Carolina, and had a mistaken lapse in auto insurance. This is when the entire family was involved in a severe auto accident. Mrs. Kramer and the children escaped serious injury, but Mr. Kramer was not so lucky. He was in a coma, and was hospitalized for quite sometime. He also suffered a brain injury which seriously impaired his memory, and eventually his performance at his job. After a year, in the midst of the family’s mounting medical bills, Mr. Kramer was let go from his job. This began a downward spiral that led to the family living out of a U-Haul van for several days. The sense of hopelessness is overwhelming for many homeless people, as Mrs. Kramer explains, “You know, you can’t tell your kids it’s going to get better, it really is, when you can’t feel that. You know, it’s frightening.” Mr. Kramer furthers the sentiment: “I’ve always been taught if you don’t work; you don’t eat. I mean, that’s the idea, so it was very hard. I was full of anger, frustration, disappointment. How could the world turn on you like that, you know? I was a decent human; I wasn’t a criminal, I wasn’t a crook. I was unable to perform my fatherly responsibilities as such, because, I couldn’t, you know, provide a home; the basic necessities. It’s not a good feeling… not a good feeling.” Their daughter’s pediatrician learned of their situation, and sponsored them through the Upstate Homeless Coalition. They were given a two-bedroom house in the Judson community to accommodate their family of five, but this was enough for the family, and they were pleased to have a home. They were eventually moved into a three-bedroom home near the end of their stay in Upstate Homeless Coalition’s transitional housing. Mrs. Kramer said of the UHC: “They were there as a cushion as much as being someone that offered us a home.” She goes on to explain that UHC offers homeless people, not only a home, but they help with necessities, and most importantly, they offer support and a sense of hope, as she says, “Even when we thought, there is no future; they made us believe that there might be one out there.” Through their involvement in the UHC, the Kramer’s made important connections that continued to help them, even after their stay in the transitional housing came to an end. Mr. Kramer found a job that he could handle through Mike Chesser of UHC, he explains, “Rev. Jerry Hill from Buncombe United Methodist, and Mike Chesser, who are friends and also on the boards at different places, well, I was put in touch with Mr. Hill, I went for an interview, and I became the bus driver for this new group: Interfaith Hospitality Network. It’s called G.A.I.H.N. That’s Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network. It’s a nation wide group. And five and a half years later, I’m still with them. It filled a void in my life, in a sense that as I was being helped, I was helping others.” The organization also directed the Kramer’s to legal aid, which helped the family to gain Mr. Kramer’s disability payment from Social Security after five years of denial. And just recently they have purchased a home, with the help of those that they met on their journey through UHC’s program. Of moving into a new home, that his family owns, Mr. Kramer said: “It’s like walking out of hell and living in heaven again.”
Kristin became homeless at twelve years old. Her mother was addicted to drugs, and her father was in jail at the time, leaving Kristin and her older sister to fend for themselves. They lived a transient life – living with friends and on the streets. The two sisters stayed together until her older sister became pregnant at which time Kristin and her sister were separated, leaving Kristin alone on the streets. Kristin was eventually put into foster care and then placed with her father when he was released from prison, but this only lasted until she was 16, at which point she resumed a transient lifestyle alternately living with her sister, friends, or on the streets. The Upstate Homeless Coalition helped Kristin in September 2007, and she now has a permanent home of her own and in January finished the prep classes to receive her G.E.D. She hopes to continue her education at Greenville Technical College and plans to become a nurse or to work in a school as a teacher’s assistant or guidance counselor.
Laurie is a 46-year-old woman in Spartanburg, South Carolina. She lost her daughter in an accident in 2000. Soon after her daughter’s death, she lost her stepfather and her biological father. To cope with the tragedy in her life, Laurie began binge drinking. After several run-ins with the law, she lost her nursing license and driver’s license. She attempted suicide multiple times and spent time in a psychiatric facility. With nowhere to go, she moved in with her mom and brother, but when her crack addicted brother became abusive, she knew she had to find somewhere else to live. She contacted Glenda at the Upstate Homeless Coalition and now lives in one of their apartments. She has completed probation for her violations and hopes to have her nursing license reinstated soon.
Mary became homeless after a series of landlords provided poor living conditions at quickly rising rents. After her final eviction, she lived in the back room of a barbershop and then with her brother before getting an apartment through Upstate Homeless Coalition. Though she worked hard to provide for her 12 year old son, Traylor, she could not afford an apartment on her income. Her primary concern throughout her ordeal, however, was protecting her son from homelessness. Now that she is in the program, she is planning to attend cosmetology school at night while she continues to work and hopes one day to run a beauty shop with her older daughter.
Mary, from Newberry, SC, became homeless after becoming addicted to crack cocaine. She maintained her habit by manipulation and violence, and she spent a total of 17 non-consecutive years in jail. She reached her lowest point when she slept underneath a church for two weeks without food. When she finally emerged, she passed out in a nearby woman’s yard, where she was rushed to the hospital. There, she was diagnosed with multiple illnesses including diabetes and high blood pressure. Realizing she needed help, she entered a long-term rehabilitation facility called Rosewood. After nearly two years at Rosewood, Mary was placed in permanent housing at Reedy Place in Greenville, SC, through the Upstate Homeless Coalition.
Michael grew up in Gray Court, South Carolina, as the middle child of nine children. After graduating from high school, he entered the workforce in various manual labor jobs and eventually relocated to Greenville. In 1980, Michael experienced a nervous breakdown and began getting disability checks from the Mental Health Department. In addition to his emotional difficulties, Michael also suffered from macular degeneration in his eyes and was unable to drive because of his poor vision. After moving to a housing project in Greenville, Michael began drinking and experimenting with crack cocaine. His addiction to crack led to his homelessness, which lasted between 10 to 15 years. He remained addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol throughout his time on the streets. Mental Health tried repeatedly to place him in housing, but he would get evicted due to non-payment of rent when all of his money was spent on crack cocaine. Eventually, Michael was placed in Upstate Homeless Coalition’s Reedy Place in downtown Greenville. This is permanent housing for the chronically homeless. Michael is now clean and looks forward to the day when he can have a place of his own, though he speaks fondly of Reedy Place and its director, Venus “Momma” Dixon.
Richard is a resident of Reedy Place, permanent housing for chronically homeless people in Greenville, South Carolina. He is originally from Camden, New Jersey. After his mother died in childbirth, Richard was placed in a foster home, and then he was adopted. His adopted mother’s boyfriend was abusive. Richard dropped out of school in the fifth grade, joined a gang, and became a drug dealer. At the age of 13, Richard shot and killed a rival gang member, and he was sent to prison. After prison, Richard lived both by himself and with his mother. He came down to Greenville to visit his pregnant girlfriend (and future wife) and became stranded in Greenville when his money was stolen. Soon Richard and his wife were addicted to crack cocaine. In addition to living in housing projects and the Rescue Mission, Richard also lived on the streets of Greenville. All of his disability checks went towards his addiction, and his wife was driven to prostitution to support their habit. When his health worsened (he has epilepsy), he decided to turn his life around. He now lives in Reedy Place where he runs a Bible study and has visitations with his daughters.
Saundra illustrates a prevalent cause of homelessness. She was a victim of domestic abuse and as a result lost her home. Saundra fled in the night after the most severe attack she had suffered and chose to press charges against her husband and enter into a safe house instead of staying with her abuser. This is a difficult move for many women to make because not the least of their concerns is often the prospect of becoming homeless. Saundra was able to salvage many of the furnishings from her home with her husband and began her life in her new transitional home provided by the Upstate Homeless Coalition surrounded by familiar things – a luxury many homeless people are not afforded. Saundra suffered the psychological scars of her years of abuse and felt timid and frightened in her own home. However, the Upstate Homeless Coalition provided her with ongoing psychiatric care, and Saundra is finding strength and contentment within her new life. She says that her bond with her family, children, and grandchildren has become stronger, and that she sees her family quite often – something her husband had never allowed before. She has, since moving into her transitional home, divorced her husband, filed a restraining order, and began her application for a disability check, as she is a breast cancer survivor. She feels safe again, and says, “The person that I see myself as now is a long way from the person that I was because I’m not as scared or as timid or frightened because I pray constantly. And I just feel that the person that I’ve become now is the person that God intended me to be at this particular point in my life, but I still know that he has something greater in store for me.”
Venus grew up in a typical family setting with two parents, multiple siblings, and a good education. Her world was shaken, however, when her 23-year-old brother committed suicide during her sophomore year in college. Unable to cope with her emotions, Venus began to drink and experiment with marijuana. During her college years, Venus was the victim of a date rape. After the legal system mishandled her case, she lost interest in her chosen area of study: the law. Abandoning her dreams of becoming a lawyer, Venus entered the corporate world after completing her degree. She also married after college. Unfortunately, her husband became abusive, and her self-medication through drugs continued. When she finally decided to leave her abusive marriage, Venus also abandoned her career and her life. Soon she was on the streets living from one high to the next. Throughout her two to three years of homelessness, Venus’s father never lost hope for her recovery. She was often approached with offers of help from her father’s friends. Though she was too ashamed to accept his offer to live with him, she would periodically go to him for food and shelter. Venus finally decided to seek long-term help for addiction. After spending time in Rosewood, a long-term treatment facility for women, she reentered normal life and the working world. Soon she was volunteering at Rosewood, and she eventually became the facility’s director. Through her connections at Greenville Mental Health, she heard about the Upstate Homeless Coalition’s newest project, Reedy Place, a permanent housing solution for the chronically homeless. She now serves as Reedy Place’s director, a caring mother figure for residents who desperately need her unconditional love.
Yolanda took a voluntary layoff at her job in anticipation of a new position in management. When the new position fell through, she was forced to take whatever jobs the temporary agency could find her. After becoming pregnant with her second son, Cameron, she unable to work for a while. Soon she was behind on her rent. After securing another temporary position, her landlord demanded all of her back rent. When she could not pay, she was served with a notice of eviction. When her family would not help her with housing, Yolanda contacted Glenda at the Upstate Homeless Coalition. Unfortunately, there was a two to three month waiting list. With nowhere to go, Yolanda was facing life in a shelter when a friend offered her couch for Yolanda and her two boys, Robert and Cameron. After three months on her friend’s couch, Yolanda was placed in an apartment through UHC. Now that Yolanda has completed the program, she is working hard to buy a house with more room for her and her growing boys. In addition to her job at the sheriff’s department, she also volunteers at a program called the Fatherhood Coalition. She is also completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Business and plans to complete an additional degree in Sociology. Her oldest son, Robert hopes to one day follow in his mother’s footsteps and attend college – playing football for the Gamecocks.
Yvonne is a good example of someone who has become homeless due to drug abuse, but she is also a good example of someone who “self medicates” primary psychiatric problems. Yvonne was raised in a home where she never felt allowed to express emotion, and this proved detrimental when she was molested as a young girl. She carried the feelings associated with this type of abuse, and never leaned to deal with them. This led to her drug abuse and her eventual homelessness. Yvonne found her way to Greenville from Atlanta one fateful night when she felt she had nowhere left to turn in Atlanta. This journey led her to The Salvation Army, and eventually to The Upstate Homeless Coalition. Yvonne offers us important insight on what it is like for a woman to live on the streets, she says, “Being homeless…I’m going to put it like this; you take a chance of being raped, beat, or killed. You are lucky if that’s all that happens to you.” She also speaks of the toll homelessness takes on self-esteem, and feelings of worthlessness. Yvonne places society’s lack of concern for mental illness as one of the major contributors of homelessness, and it is her opinion that if there were better and more comprehensive mental health care facilities, there would be less homelessness. Yvonne now lives in a home that she is truly proud of, and says, “There are times when I look around, at what a beautiful place this is, and think of what heaven must be like. If God put a place this beautiful on Earth, imagine how beautiful heaven is.” She is now clean and sober, and is learning to trust and be a part of the community. She says that she is getting closer with her neighbors, and is happy to learn to have friends, and all of this has helped her regain her self-esteem, and dignity.