What homelessness is like

Words from those who are living without shelter

The Commons is grateful to the people experiencing homelessness who have shared their stories with the newspaper over the past six months.

Following are excerpts from these interviews. Names have been changed to protect their privacy.

'It's not fun being homeless'

Joe is 70 years old and stays at the Quality Inn in Brattleboro. He had been paying for a room at the West Village Motel in West Brattleboro for 5{1/2} years but had to leave when the building was sold. "The new owner's gonna put up condos," he said.

So he called the state's emergency housing line at 800-775-0506, "and they got me in here," he said.

"I was in the Air Force seven years, three months, and six days," Joe reported. He thinks he may be offered VA housing in Bradford. But that's several hours away in Orange County, and he doesn't want to move that far. He's lived in Brattleboro since he was 9 years old.

He says he could pay for a room at the Quality Inn, except that his debit card was stolen and he was "wiped out completely."

"And I can't prosecute her because she OD'd and died," he said of the person he identified as the thief.

Speaking of living at the Quality Inn, "Mostly people are good. The problem is nobody ever has any cigarettes!" Joe said.

"It's not fun being homeless," he added. "It's hard to get help."

A housing Catch-22

When they spoke to The Commons in late summer, Jane and Jeff had been bouncing between the Quality Inn and a local campground for months. They both worked but couldn't afford rents in the area.

"We're stuck in this Catch-22," Jane said. "We don't make enough for a regular apartment, but we make too much to qualify for subsidized housing. So what are we supposed to do?"

The couple had a plan: They hoped that when the cold weather arrived, they'd become eligible for emergency motel shelter under the state's "adverse weather" policy. Then they could save "as much as possible" to be able to afford an apartment.

"It's hard to save when you're camping," Jane said. "We have to pay for storage for our stuff and pay for the campsite every week. We have to buy food every day because ice only lasts a day."

The couple did get a motel room when winter arrived.

"We're just trying to do the right thing," Jane said in a follow-up interview. "We don't hang out with anybody. We're just keeping our heads down. Saving, saving, saving, only buying necessities. Honestly, we go to bed hungry all the time," she said.

The Commons recently learned that Jane and Jeff moved into an apartment in Brattleboro late last year.

You can't get a job without an ID

Mark panhandled on Putney Road for months.

"People are definitely willing to help," he said. "And then there's other people that just assume nobody wants to work. And that's not always the situation," he said.

"It's not like there's work everywhere all the time for people," Mark noted. "And when there is, they don't want to hire somebody off the street with no ID."

Mark doesn't have an ID and said that without a car he can't get to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get one. He intermittently picked up carpentry work that paid under the table and was saving for a motel room to be near his 2-year-old son and his partner.

Asked about conditions at the motel for his family, he said, "I don't think they're safe. But I don't think they're unsafe, if that makes sense."

Still, he was concerned.

"I don't think anyone's going to harm them, but it's definitely not the best place for them to be," Mark said.

'It ain't easy to live in the hotel, that's for sure'

When The Commons interviewed Megan this summer, she and her three children had been living in a motel for almost a year and a half. She buys groceries at Hannaford on Putney Road and cooks rice and chicken on the small electric hotplate in the room.

Megan's search for an apartment has been frustrating.

"Everywhere you go, you just keep getting denied and denied and denied," she said. "If it's not because your kids are biracial, it's because you don't have enough income. But it's called 'low income.' So how much more income do you need to get approved?"

Megan was feeling hopeful after she received a Section 8 voucher, which qualified her for low-income housing. But she still hadn't found an apartment.

"I don't know why they're giving out Section 8 left and right, because there's no apartments," she said.

Asked about her plan for April 1, when the state's pandemic-era motel housing program is slated to end, Megan said that "they said that when April comes, if we didn't find an apartment, they'll give us a tent or I can sleep in the car."

Dreaming of the day when she will find an apartment, Megan said, "I'll be the happiest person in the world.

"You know how fast I'll pack?" she said. "I don't care how little it is. As long as I can sleep. If it's got light and I can cook, I'm fine.

"It ain't easy to live in the hotel, that's for sure."

This News item was submitted to The Commons.

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