Photo by Giles ClasenBy Meg Stearns, VOICE vendor
Most—if not all—of us have made both good and bad decisions in our lives. When a homeless person makes a bad decision, it can mean life or death, especially for a homeless woman. Normally, I consider myself a strong woman with good judgment, but that hasn’t always been the case.
In 2004 I was homeless in Grand Junction. I knew no one there; I had no money and nowhere to stay. One day I went to the soup kitchen for lunch. There was a man behind me in line. He began talking to me. He did not look like a stereotypical homeless person—he was clean cut, didn’t smell bad, and was well spoken. So when he asked if he could join me for lunch, I agreed. This, I thought, was an opportunity to find out where I could camp.
After lunch, he took me to an island in the middle of the Colorado River. It was easy to get there from town by wading in the river. He told me I could be his camp partner until I got my own gear—tent, sleeping bag, etc. So I moved in.
After a few days he decided I was his property. The friendly man at lunch turned out to be a lunatic. I was made to work doing things like chopping wood and digging a new platform for the tent. If I did not do everything he wanted, I paid for it. No matter what I did or didn’t do, he beat me and raped me every day. There was another couple at the camp; they knew what he was doing to me and didn’t care. He spied on me and watched me all of the time. I had to ask if I could have a drink of water, if I could go relieve myself—the list goes on. I felt like I was a character in a bad novel.
I became somewhat delusional and thought that every plane that flew over us just might be looking for me. Of course that wasn’t true. I began thinking about how I could escape and I finally saw an opportunity. We took scrap metal to a junkyard to get money. The two other people we camped with couldn’t go because they were on the run; I dared not ask why. The lunatic was banned from the junkyard for trying to steal a wallet that belonged to a worker there. I was the only one in our camp who could go to the junkyard to get money—with an escort of course. The lunatic would go with me to the junkyard, and then watch me down an alley while I turned in the metal.
I had two black eyes and bruises all over when I went to the junkyard that day. A worker there asked me if I was OK, and as strange as this may sound, I was afraid to tell the truth. I wrote down my name, though, and my situation. The worker called the police and an ambulance and that is how I escaped. Clearly trusting the man from the soup kitchen was a dangerous and very bad decision.
A few years later I was homeless again but this time in Denver. I was running around with two guys, also homeless. It was January and extremely cold. The two guys suggested we go see Mike, an acquaintance of theirs who had a small condo. They knew he would set them up with money and booze. He did, then they got wasted and left. OK, I thought, so what do I do and where will I stay?
Mike said I could crash at his place, but due to my past I was leery. However, I could not find a shelter bed and it was cold outside. I did not know what to do. Finally I decided to stay and I prayed. It turned out that Mike was decent, kind, and respectful. After two nights I found an emergency shelter bed. I told Mike, and thanked him for letting me stay. He looked at me and said, “You can stay.”
Since he was simply kind to me and never tried to violate me, I stayed. We were like roommates for a while. Then one thing led to another, and we ended up getting married.
Five months later he died, but I was able to stay in the condo. Having my own place now is bittersweet. I miss Mike, but I am extremely grateful to have a roof over my head. It is a very small condo but it is a palace for my dog Elly and me. While I don’t have much, it is plenty.
Sure, I took a chance by staying there, but my gut was right that second time. I am one of the fortunate ones. An angel must have been watching over me. ■