I Never Thought I’d be Unhoused

I never thought that I’d be unhoused.

When you are disabled, you are presented with a series of hoops to jump through. Applications for social security benefits, SNAP (food stamps), and Medicaid. Section 8 lists are closed in most places—they aren’t even accepting new applicants. When I first started jumping through hoops, I was lucky to have a friend who had been through those hoops and knew how to jump through each one. She knew what programs were available for me. It still took 6 years to get approved for social security and another few years to be lucky enough to receive a Section 8 voucher. Once I had all those programs under my belt, I was supposed to be set. Among the disabled who depend on government assistance, attaining the level of stability I found was akin to winning the lottery.

For five years, I had an apartment of my own. I lived in an apartment building in a semi-urban area. I often heard people screaming outside, day and night. I saw the people bundled under thick blankets in the store alcoves at night. I had never seen homelessness that close before. It was overwhelming, so I tried to do something about it.

I asked the people that I saw: what do you need most? They all replied with the same answer: socks. In the Pacific Northwest, foot rot is a big issue. Having clean socks is hard when you can’t do laundry. I fundraised over $200 for a garbage bag full of bulk socks. I went around and handed them out. There was a joy that was almost palpable. One man swore to protect me. Another said he’d been wearing the same pair for almost 3 weeks. Another cried. I went home feeling good about myself.

That was in 2017, during my first year in that neighborhood. Over the years, there were more and more issues with people in the streets. Quarantine made them disappear… temporarily. Then they came back worse. The screaming was incessant. Not knowing better, I repeatedly called the police. It didn’t do anything to help. I later learned from a friend that one of the people screaming was a trans woman who had been through horrific abuse and conversion therapy. She numbed the pain and trauma with meth and developed long-term psychosis. She was screaming at the people who had hurt her when she was only a teenager.

I stopped calling the police. I learned to swerve around the human feces on the sidewalks. I tried to ignore the retching outside at night. I reminded myself that I was lucky to have an apartment.

In 2019, after finding myself in an unsafe situation, I decided to move to Florida. Doing so on social security benefits isn’t easy, though, so in early 2020, I began selling almost everything I owned. I took my time, needing the move to be as foolproof as possible. I needed to transfer my Section 8 voucher, find an accessible apartment, pay for the deposit, pay for airfare, and do all of that from across the country. It took almost 3 years.

This past spring, I was approved for an apartment. I filed the paperwork for Section 8, booked my flights, paid the deposit on the apartment, submitted my 30-day notice, and found a friend to help me move my cats and luggage by plane. Weeks passed with no calls or emails from either housing authority. About a week before I was due to fly out, I discovered that my caseworker had not done her job. She never sent my paperwork to the other housing authority.

That was the day I discovered that I was going to be unhoused.

Through the generosity of friends and family, I was able to afford 2 ½ months in motels. Eventually, people stopped donating. I discovered that the housing authority was counting those donations as income, so when I do find housing, my portion of the rent will be more than I receive in social security benefits each month.

Zephyr-Rose’s emotional support cat looks out at their motel parking lot.

Knowing that I could no longer afford a motel room, I had to make the decision to find a temporary foster home for my emotional support cats. I called every shelter in the area, only to be told repeatedly that there were no beds available or that I didn’t qualify (for reasons they wouldn’t disclose). I packed what I could carry on myself and my wheelchair and set out to the final shelter in person. I was turned away because they only had top bunks. I asked if they could switch people around so I could have a bottom bunk, but I was told that they wouldn’t do that. I wasn’t the only person in a wheelchair who was told that that day.

The system that the government has created for disabled folx is broken. When you’re receiving $841 each month and you’re not allowed to have more than $2,000 in assets, you are not able to create a safety net. The burden is then placed on friends and family. What about when they, too, are unable to help? Or what about those who don’t have a support system? Most people who are unhoused have disabilities. We should have the right, as well as the ability, to build adequate safety nets.

About the Author

Zephyr-Rose Poe is a queer, disabled, unhoused person who has recently moved cross-country to the Orlando-area. Zephyr has previously written and published two books: A Butterfly’s Wings, a book of poetry centered around feminism, queerness, and mental health, as well as The Adventure of It All, a two-part memoir about traveling around the world in a wheelchair. Zephyr’s pronouns are they/them.

Instagram: squishsquishdarling

Support for unhoused people

Around the country, heat contributes to some 1,500 deaths annually, and advocates estimate about half of those people are experiencing homelessness.

GO Humanity is supporting unhoused people this summer with an Extreme Heat Response. Help volunteer teams in the nation’s hottest areas save lives by contributing.

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