I’m Jane Doe, a 40-something woman of small stature. I shared my story with Erica and have given her permission to share it with you. I want you to understand some things about the reality of being unhoused.
I gave my housing up in early March, 2020. I have a Bachelor’s Degree and had been working for a social service agency for several years. The management was changing, becoming disorganized and stressful to work for. With my extensive history of trauma, the environment became intolerable. I had my social security/disability income so I knew I could survive without the job. I put a lot of thought into leaving, but I had to. My stress was escalating, exacerbating my PTSD along with the Bipolar symptoms that went with it. I was becoming depressed, anxious, and manicy, all at the same time. It wasn’t an environment I could continue to endure. My housing was adding to the stress. I lived in section 8 housing and my neighbors were being verbally and emotionally abusive. The yelling and nastiness, some of which was aimed at me, was triggering me. I couldn’t keep the apartment any longer.
Since I didn’t have a first, last, and deposit saved, I decided it might be really nice to just go on an extended road trip, camping. There were places I wanted to see, Yellow Stone National Park, the Northern Lights, and I figured this was as good a time as any. In the process of all this, I applied, and got accepted, to graduate school. In the fall I would be committed to the graduate program so traveling now made sense.
I started my road trip at the Oregon coast. It felt calming and peaceful to walk on the beach, camp in the forest, and listen to nature. Camping was therapeutic, building fires and keeping them going, making simple foods, and having a place outside in nature. In the beginning, the challenge of keeping food cold, having wood for a fire, using the bathroom, and feeling safe were all manageable in a campground.
Before long, Covid-19 messed up my plans. I couldn’t camp down into California, or up into Alaska as all the campgrounds were closed. Now, I had to sleep in my truck, in rest areas, or in public parking lots. These locations don’t feel safe to me. As a child, a neighbor climbed in my window at night, assaulting me. My parents didn’t protect me, leaving me with trauma around nighttime, sleeping, and windows. It, along with other assaults, has made it difficult for me to feel safe.
I found a logging road which got me up into the woods. This seemed like a safer place to camp but there were numerous complications which arose. Without a real campsite, going to the bathroom became a nightly stressor. I could pee in a container, but crouching in the back of my truck was hard on my back. I grieved this challenge, becoming angry at the government for making decisions which robbed me of my ability to camp in a safe, guarded environment. Number two required finding a public bathroom. I sure as heck wasn’t going to crouch in the pitch black in the woods. God knows what might be out there. The worst part was the night someone else came up to the woods in the middle of the night. I woke up hearing their van drive up and stop about ten yards away. Then there was a flashlight in my window. It was just us out there in the woods, and I was scared. Luckily, they were only looking for something to steal. When they didn’t see anything good, they left.
I know there’s a purpose for my experiences, something for the greater good. I’m past my anger, realizing that there must be a reason I’m meant to experience this, some way my experiences can help others. I hope that in reading this you’ll understand a few things. One: becoming unhoused can happen despite having a good education. Two: when people are unhoused, they struggle with basics like where to go to the bathroom, how to keep food edible, and how to stay warm. Eating hot food while unhoused is a luxury that’s hard to access. Three: Unhoused people are just like you, we’re intelligent, have feelings, and need safety and respect.