Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Homelessness Can Happen To Anyone, So Save Up!

I've been a member of a homeless family once in my life.  In June of 1983, my then 26-year-old mother decided to defy my father's wishes and journey to El Norte with my older sister and me.  My father was a day laborer at the time in California.  He'd live with his two American citizen brothers (he was the unlucky third offspring of a migrant worker who returned with his pregnant wife to Mexico in 1955 after twenty-five years of living on U.S. soil) in the Coachella Valley, or with immigrant friends who lived in San Jose, CA.  My mother must have imagined my father having a great time in California while we starved at home in Chihuahua, Mexico.  "Your father hasn't sent us any money!" I recall her yelling, whenever I'd ask for change to buy sweets at the corner tienda.

I went from living in a one-bedroom, cement block built house, to sharing a small southwest style home with strangers in El Paso, TX.  My mother's guide from the day we left our small town, Meoqui, to the day we arrived safely in El Paso, was a local couple who'd crossed the Rio Grande more than once.  This couple had family of their own in El Paso, and had pre-arranged a two to three day stay for us with their relatives.  I was six at the time.

What I remember the most from this experience was eating mayonnaise sandwiches.  This host family was not kin of ours.  Their kitchen was theirs.  Their food was theirs.  We had no money for food.  We were enough of a burden, filling-up their home.  So that's what we ate for a few days until the airline confirmed it had six tickets available for a flight to Los Angeles, three for us, and three for our guides and their son.  Walking into the El Paso airport and on to our gate was nerve-racking.  My mom was sure La Migra would be there just waiting for us.

Uncle Mario, a former Coachella Valley High School teacher, who passed away from cancer in the late eighties, came to pick us up at the airport in L.A.  We were all still homeless, but at least we would be staying with family.  We lived in Coachella for about a week.  I got to actually leave the house while there and explore the neighborhood with my American cousins.  I'd never seen so many paved roads in my life.

While in Coachella, my mother was able to finally communicate with my father, using my uncle's telephone to call long-distance to the bay area.  He was not a happy camper, knowing we were now only about 400 miles away, and with no international border to separate us.  Sharing an apartment or renting a garage is a lot easier to do on your own.  No way he'd be able to keep to his set-up.  Plus he had to come get us, borrowing someone else's vehicle.  Remember, people drove without licenses or insurance (very risky) all the time back then.  Being poor was a lot easier.

What awaited our family in San Jose?  Someone else's house of course!  My dad had a Mexican friend from work who allowed our family to crash at their place until my parents could get an apartment.  Would you like to know what I remember the most about this experience?  Not being allowed to use these people's combs or hairbrushes.  We didn't have any of our own.  We'd left Mexico on the spur of the moment, and my mother, bless her heart, had only packed one bag full of clothes.  She didn't expect us to have made it so far.  I remember her being quite upset at the slight from this more established Mexican family.  "You two have never had lice in your lives!" she told my sister and me in private.  I'd get lice for the first time in my life ironically a few years later while attending McKinley Elementary in East San Jose.

Voluntarily Becoming Homeless Versus Involuntary Becoming Homeless

There's a huge difference between becoming "homeless" on your own accord versus becoming homeless out of unfortunate circumstances.  No one forced us to leave Mexico.  Poverty pushed us out. Here in America, people and families become homeless everyday.  I visited and took the liberty of copying and pasting this blurb for you:

What Is Family Homelessness? 

Every year, hundreds of thousands of American families become homeless, including more than 1.6 million children. These families are hidden from our view. They move frequently, and many are doubled-up in overcrowded apartments with relatives or friends. Others sleep in cars and campgrounds or send their children to stay with relatives to avoid shelter life. Once in shelter, despite the efforts of dedicated staff, life can be noisy, chaotic, and lack privacy. Homelessness increases the likelihood that families will separate or dissolve.
Family homelessness is caused by the combined effects of lack of affordable housing, unemployment, limited access to resources and supports, health and mental health challenges, the challenges of raising children as a single parent, and experiences of violence. As the gap between housing costs and income continues to widen, more and more families are at risk of homelessness. Even a seemingly minor event can trigger a catastrophic outcome and catapult a family onto the streets.
Families experiencing homelessness are under considerable stress. Homelessness is a devastating experience that significantly impacts the health and well-being of adults and children. Often, members of homeless families have experienced trauma. These experiences affect how children and adults think, feel, behave, relate, and cope.

I'd like to add one additional reason, not included in the second paragraph above, but one that I come in contact with all the time at the school I work in: Deportation.  These past few years (during the Obama administration) have been difficult for many American children and youth.  They're dubbed, "anchor babies," by conservative media.  Let them be called whatever, it doesn't change the fact that thousands have been left behind to live with relatives or friends, parent-less.  Talk about trauma.  How would you like to have your mom and dad arrested and hauled away from you while grabbing doughnuts before school?  This really happened to two high school age siblings where I work.  Just one of many sad situations I've encountered.  The law is the law, right?  Just doesn't feel right.

I'm not here to debate immigration policy.  I just wanted to make sure in this post, that I covered every single American out there that has read up to this point, and to make my main point: Family homelessness can happen to anyone...Whites, Blacks, Latinos, and Asians…people living paycheck to paycheck or indeed, even successful investors and entrepreneurs.

We've heard of individuals who were once homeless and later became rich and famous.  People like Jim Cramer of Mad Money/CNBC.  He talks on his show about having lived in his car at one point in his life.  We may have read, "Rich Dad/Poor Dad," by Robert Kiyosaki and recall his struggles before becoming the wealthy businessman he is today.  The movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith was hard to watch, but made us feel good knowing his character had made it in the end.  He and his son didn't have to live at the Bart station ever again.  Not every homeless family is this lucky.  For some of them, the struggle never ends.

A Serious Call for Emergency Savings

Why I have written about this topic on my blog?  It's supposed to be about financial literacy, investing, entrepreneurship, business, etc.  I wrote this piece to scare you into saving for an emergency.  Friend, you have to trust me on this one.  I admit that I, myself, have done a poor job of saving for an emergency.

If you're living paycheck to paycheck, pull a few bucks out of your budget every month and put it in an emergency fund.  Get yourself into a Money Market account when you can (there may be deposit minimums) and save until you have at least six months' worth of living expenses.  If you're not living paycheck to paycheck and don't have an emergency fund…shame on you!  Do you have a family?  Then slap yourself in the face and wake up!  I just slapped myself.

Advice for Head of Multiple Households

I'm not even sure if that's the term to use: Head of multiple households.  But if you have taken in a family and are the breadwinner or share this role with your partner, I can share a bit of advice with you.

  • Take each day one at a time, but always work for the future.
  • Help empower the people under your roof; don't inadvertently or purposely take away whatever dignity your guests may have with negative comments or actions.  Stay positive for everyone's sake.
  • If adults have come to live with you, be a resource not an enabler.  Many adults have never taken the public bus, for example.  If you've done this before, tell them how to do it, but don't drive them around everyday like a chauffeur.
  • Allow your guests to pitch in around the house.  This makes them feel helpful, especially if they're not paying rent.
  • Keep in mind that your guests are just as uncomfortable about the situation as you are, and want nothing more than to get their own place immediately.  They are not like your Millennial/Boomerang child!
  • Seek help if the strain or stress is too much.  You are not a machine and need to be able to unload your burden on someone, i.e., vent from time to time for your own sanity.  It doesn't do the family any good if the pilot of the ship goes out of commission.
Thank-you for reading.  Take care.

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