WRITTEN BY: MACKENZIE LEVEQUE | STAFF WRITER
“I’m the one with the orange Gary Fisher bicycle with the handlebars loaded down with bags,” she texts me. “Very embarrassing feeling.”
I get in my car and head over to the Fashion Valley Transit Center. The old transit center where she is waiting, one that many homeless individuals use for transport, is located on the opposite side of a high end retail mall, a sharp juxtaposition between two worlds. As I drive to meet her, the texts kept coming.
“Oh, I have white tennis shoes on, jean shorts, a white spaghetti strap and a black and red plaid shirt over it. I probably won’t have the black and red plaid over shirt on when you get here because it’s getting kind of hot.”
As I turn into the shopping center parking lot, I wonder about Marny. On the phone, Marny told me that she is staying in hotels for a few days because she has gotten some money from a friend.
She checked out of a Best Western this morning and is checking into the Town and Country this afternoon at 3 p.m. She offered to let me meet her at 2:30 and go through the check in process with her before our interview.
I park my car and walk over to the transit center. She is sitting on a bench, the unforgiving sun hitting her harshly as she waits. I see her before she sees me. She has long hair to her waist. Her shorts are short and she has indeed taken off her red and black plaid shirt, wearing now only a white tank top.
She smiles when she notices me, though her eyes are tired under her sparkly eye shadow. We say hello and begin walking to the Town and Country, making small talk about the weather. When we reach the lounge, she parks her orange bicycle outside, leaving the three bags that contain all of her belongings piled on top. I worry that they will be stolen, but she doesn’t seem concerned as she pushes down the kickstand and leads the way into the lobby.
While we wait in line, Marny tells me about her current living situation.
“For the past ten years, I lived in a beautiful house with a friend of mine,” she said. “I met him a long time ago; I clean houses and he was helping one of my clients move. He’s gay and he has HIV and his wife lives in a separate house. He’s also a hoarder. I don’t really understand that situation, but his wife has a trust fund so they are set for life. I helped him and stayed there with them.”
The situation changed, however, when the couple decided to move to Iowa to pursue a real estate opportunity. This was a shock to Marny, who was now forced to find somewhere to live on very little income.
“I have clients that trust me enough to give me the keys to their house, but I just don’t charge enough,” she says. “Life is just so expensive. It’s expensive just to eat.”
This is not the first time that Marny has found herself without a place to live. In 2001, Marny left her abusive ex- husband and was forced to live on the streets for a brief period of time. She says that after she and her daughters left the house, her ex-husband burned it down.
“It’s a scary time living on the streets,” she said. “The police harass you. Once you’re homeless it’s like you’re banned from society.”
Marny has four daughters who were living with her at the time when she was living on the streets. They were taken from her care shortly after.
“A kid shouldn’t be raised that way,” said Marny. “It was horrible. I was okay, but it wasn’t okay for them.”
Marny’s daughters are certainly not alone in having experience living on the streets. According to a 2014 KPBS article, “the number of homeless children at San Diego city schools has nearly doubled since last year.” The article said that the lingering effects of the recession and housing collapse may contribute to this increase in homelessness. With household economics strained, many families simply can’t afford to buy a place to live.
Marny tried to live in a shelter, but she didn’t feel comfortable there either.
“I went to a shelter but I didn’t belong there,” she said. “It was kind of like being in jail or the military. You had to get up really early. And the people who lived there were real homeless people. They were just living day to day. They just wanted a meal and a bed. At the shelter they had programs to help us, but I don’t think I am patient enough to do a program.”
One of these programs that Marny did not have patience for was a rehabilitation program called 211 San Diego said that Kiva is “a long term residential treatment program for women, with and without children, who are seeking help for alcohol and other drug addiction.” This program lasts between four to six months, during which patients get both individual and group counseling, treatment planning, on-site daycare, parenting classes, and many other services.
The location is confidential and the program goes from four to six months.
Marny lasted six days.
Marny has struggled with drug and alcohol dependency since high school. She attributes this to her family history.
“My childhood was wonderful until my parents got divorced,” she says. “We had a beautiful house and a perfect family. When they got divorced, my whole world changed. They sold the house and my mom and I left with everything in a truck.”
She pauses, tears streaming down her face.
“Nine years old is—well, you get a taste of the good life and you get that taken away from you.
“My mom got a boyfriend, and he abused her. She was always drunk. When she would pick me up from school, she would side swipe other cars in the parent car line. Not just once, but all the time. She never was drunk before the divorce.”
She wipes the tears from her face and continues.
“When I was fourteen years old, I went to go live with my dad again. He is a wonderful man. But that five years. That five years affected my whole life. I was a straight A student in high school.
“But then – when I was a senior – it was like those five years suddenly became a part of me. That part of my mom came into me. I started getting into drugs and alcohol. I don’t know why that happened.”
Now, we are at the front of the line and Marny begins verifying her information with the woman behind the desk. This woman is wearing a camisole also, but hers is a light lavender and covered by a checkered blazer.
“What brings you here?” She asks.
Marny smiles at the woman across the desk.
“I’m coming here to get away.”
The woman smiles back blankly. She doesn’t understand, of course she couldn’t, but somehow I find myself blaming her for her cheerful responses.
This isn’t a cheerful situation.
I offer to help Marny with her bags, but she says she can handle them.
As we walk, we make small talk about the location of the room. Marny hopes that it isn’t too far away from the main entrance and that it is on the bottom floor.
“I had to leave the last hotel because it was just not safe,” she says. “It was so far away from the door and it was on the third floor.”
When we finally find the room, it is a fair distance from the hotel entrance, but it is on the first floor. Marny declares it much nicer than the last room and so we walk in and sit down.
Once seated, we return back to our previous conversation.
“Are there people that would help you?” I ask her. “Do they know you’re homeless?”
Marny answers without pause.
“Oh yes,” she said. “I have wonderful, wonderful parents. They would help me. My mom went through rehab – she finished the Kiva program – and she’s good now. And my dad, well, he has always been wonderful. My friends would definitely want to help too.”
This is fairly typical of many individuals who are living in hotels or on the streets. According to
Dr. Patricia Leslie, facilitator of the Regional Continuum of Care Council, part of the Regional
Task Force on the Homeless (RTFH), many homeless people have people in their lives that would or could help them. She cites two reasons for this: first, these individuals have people in their lives that could help but that they feel they have strained relationships with already. The other reason is because being independent is more important to them than being comfortable.
“Why?” I ask her. “Why don’t you let them?”
Marny sighs, the weight of her life collapsing on to her body as she considers this.
“I don’t want to bother them,” she says finally. “I’m an adult, I’m supposed to figure this out myself. I don’t want people to have to take care of me, they did their job as parents already. I just want my kids to be proud of me.
“I just – I’m going to be okay, you know? I am. I am going to be okay.”