Marie (name withheld) has been homeless off and on for the past five years.
Marie has been married twice and is the mother of two. Her life choices have resulted in disaster after disaster.
By her own admission, she’s left “a trail of destruction” in her wake. She has been alone for a while. Fortunately for Marie, her commitment to Christ has enabled her to overcome her addictions as well as the desire to run every time a problem arises.
She continues to undergo therapy, and her situation continues to improve as her faith grows.
Major Frank Duracher spoke to Marie about the experience of being homeless today.
War Cry: Can you describe your experience being homeless, up to the present?
Marie: I never intended to be homeless. With my first marriage, I wanted a family where we all lived in a house with a white picket fence.
Along came husband number two, and I thought things would be different, and that I could still have that dream. But that didn’t work out either.
Let me say that it wasn’t all my husband’s fault. I’m as much to blame as anyone—probably more so.
So when that dream didn’t materialize, I left. I will take the emptiness I feel at having left behind my girls, but I couldn’t help myself. I was spiraling into more drugs—more dangerous drugs—and I could fool myself into believing the real reason why I left them was to save them from me, but I won’t make any more excuses.
War Cry: Where did you go?
Marie: I wandered cross-country, trying to put down roots somewhere. If I found a job, I put everything into it; hoping to make something of myself. But something always happened that forced me to quit or get fired. I got sick, or I showed up at work sky-high, or I didn’t show up at all.
It seemed my past always caught up with me.
War Cry: You seem on the right track now. What’s the difference?
Marie: One word: Jesus. The only reason I was homeless at all was because of my addictions. I slowly came to realize that, but change on my own would be impossible. I was out west a while back and someone told me about how The Salvation Army helps women and men like me.
I’ve been clean and sober now for three years. But better than that: my soul is clean and sober too!
War Cry: Tell me about your life on the street.
Marie: Most people don’t know but among homeless people, there is a culture. An unspoken language, if you will.
Marking the curb of a house where a kindly person lives, for example.
Another signal is if you find, say, a sandwich on the top right hand corner of a newsstand or a trash receptacle, that meant the food was safe to eat. Each corner meant something different—the least one meaning, “Eat at your own risk!” (Laughs.)
War Cry: Were you in any danger?
Marie: Most of the time, it felt like it. There was this one stretch of time I saved up for a tent and sleeping bag. Every night at 5:00 p.m., you had to be at the shelter, and they had like a lottery where if they called your number, you got a bed that night. If your number wasn’t called, tough luck.
That’s why I had my tent and sleeping bag as a backup. I’d go to a nearby reserve, just outside of town and pitch my tent—usually in the same spot as the night before.
I was always cold. Often I’d wake up and there’d be snow on the ground.
Anyway, one morning I got up and walked down the mountain to town where I had a part-time job. As I was going down the path, I noticed off to the right was a mountain lion. He was looking right at me. I froze in terror; then slowly made my way far from him. He didn’t follow me, thank God.
War Cry: What about in town—what dangers did you face there?
Marie: Most other homeless people would cut your throat to rob you, so you never show any money out in the open. Also, most had their turf they would work for handouts, so you’d better not go there.
Also, being a woman, I was always afraid of being raped. That never happened, because I guess I learned to protect myself. Also, I’ve lost so much weight I don’t think anyone wanted to give me a second look. (Laughs.) I heard some horror stories out there, though.
And another thing, I always felt that normal people looked down on us who are homeless. Maybe I was imagining that, but it sure seemed so. In one town they actually had a law that you couldn’t sit still on one park bench or something for fear that would encourage loitering.
“It’s easy to say but it’s so hard to do. You need to forgive yourself of you past. God Has. You should too.”
War Cry: How are you doing today? What are your plans?
Marie: With my sobriety, and with the Lord’s help, I’m thinking a lot clearer now. Keeping the job I now have is not nearly the nightmare keeping a job used to be for me. I feel like I’ve proven myself, and in fact I just got a minor promotion. But it’s little steps like that that make you able to build on what you’ve got right here, right now.
I finally feel like I’ve gotten off of the merry-go-round.
War Cry: Any advice for anyone still on that merry-go-round who wants to get off in the worst way?
Marie: It’s easy to say but it’s so hard to do. You need to forgive yourself of your past. God has. You should too. You have to, really, or it just gets worse. It’ll never get better, otherwise. It’ll just be the same old…
Also, you need to reach out. There are people who do care. If the ones you are reaching out to don’t want to help, then reach out somewhere else.
Just don’t give up.