Starting the New Year Homeless
A year ago…
“I think that it’s just mental illness,” she said, staring at me with the degree of certainty that only emanates from the kind of people who are the most assured of their convictions. Thu and I had only been colleagues for a couple of months, but she was always—always—certain about everything and, this time, she was certain that mental defect and mental defect alone was the sole cause for our city’s rising number of homeless.
It was a year ago this month that we stood in the expansive lobby of a downtown corporate trade association for the firm’s holiday party surrounded by oversized Christmas trees and undersized plastic plates piled with high-calorie fixings to mark the season.
She and I happened on a conversation about homelessness—at a work function of all places—because not 100 yards from our building stood day in and day out a group of homeless locals who would solicit funds at a major intersection. It had become a topic of conversation in local media and at the office given that we all passed these neighbors daily.
“My family came here with nothing and worked hard,” she added, referring to her parents’ departure from Vietnam in the aftermath of the fall of Saigon. “They can do the same.” My enthusiasm for the conversation quickly waned as she began to spout the familiar boot-straps narrative that so often animates our political discussions about poverty.
I was no expert on homelessness, but even I knew that the subject was far more complicated than issues involving mental health, substance abuse or even just plain ol’ willpower. Did she know, for example, that nationwide just under half of all homeless people were once living in their own homes and that in cities like San Francisco that number is north of 70 percent of the people who now find themselves without a place to stay?
Did she know that more than 20 percent of all homeless individuals are actually employed, but simply don’t earn enough to cover the rent and that study after study links the rise in homelessness to a drop in affordable housing options and increases in rent?
But, I didn’t offer any of that as a rejoinder to her certainty that the issue all boils down to mental health. Instead, I politely ended our exchange (offering something about wanting to try a dessert I had seen float by on a tray a moment earlier) and went to look for one of those tiny plates to overload with glucose as an elixir for my lack of political courage.
Yet, little did I know standing there, amid my indignation about the causes of homelessness, that in a year’s time, I too, would be at sudden risk of becoming homeless.
Soon after leaving the corporate world I joined the transition team of our city’s newly elected mayor as communications director, working to craft a narrative around the creation of policies to help reduce things like homelessness by addressing housing prices.
Then, after she was sworn in and opting not to join the administration, I began consulting on communications projects that would also advance policies similar to those that I had advocated for as the incoming mayor’s spokesperson. But, all of that changed recently.
Being a freelance consultant is wonderful.
I get to pick the projects I want to work on and set agreeable hours. But what I didn’t know is that not only do clients not always pay on time, they, sometimes, don’t pay at all.
I am a one-person operation, which means that I effectively can only handle four to five clients at a time, any more than that gets to be unruly and my work product begins to suffer. So, as a result, should one client not be forthcoming with satisfying an invoice, then anywhere from 20 to 25 percent of my income could end up languishing in accounts payable.
So, in September when I signed a $20,000 contract with a firm whose management I knew well, I felt good about the prospect of being paid on time (in the amount of $5,000 each quarter). Yet, not only did that not happen, but, when I was paid, I was given a check for half ($2,500) of what I was owed for the final quarter of 2018 and soon discovered that there were no funds in the firm’s bank account to cover that dollar amount.
I immediately retained pro bono counsel and was able to wrangle a valid check in the amount of $2,500 from the firm’s corporate office, but was quickly notified that corporate planned to instruct its subsidiary to walk away from the remainder of the contract.
So, now I am faced with some very difficult legal and financial decisions and have learned (through conversations with fellow freelancers) that the experience of having clients balk on contracts is a common one. Yet, this experience has left me all but destitute and facing the imminent repossession of my vehicle, loss of my apartment and even cell service.
I am seeking to replace the income ($5,000) that I was slated to receive at the start of the next quarter (Jan. 1), providing me with enough “bridge capital,” so to speak, to stave off homelessness and get to the start of my next contract in the early to mid-spring.
So, if I can get through this particular financial malaise, I am excited about what the future holds because thanks to all of my years of communications experience I am now being invited to help produce public affairs programming for a local leading television station, an idea that has been on the vine for a few years, but that is now coming to fruition.
I, of course, intend to produce content around the issue of homelessness, the very issue I am, ironically, contending with now. Yet, any interruption in what has been a very stable housing situation will certainly put that project and all of my other work at immediate risk.
So, I am reaching out for financial assistance (to raise $5,000), having exhausted all other available avenues.
I am very grateful for any assistance you can provide: paypal.me/transfercredit