By Sarah Ford
Virginia Bryant’s first experience with a VOICE vendor came years before she started selling the paper.
“I can remember passing, years ago, before my life became disheveled, passing a Vendor for the VOICE. And it didn’t impact me,” she says. Then she found herself in the same situation. Over the past 15 or so years, Virginia has lived through three separate extended periods of homelessness.
The first time came after her husband, Jacob, became sick. A massive stroke made him dependent upon around-the-clock care. Unwilling to put him in a nursing home, Virginia decided to become his caregiver herself.
Struggling to make ends meet, she moved them both to the Parkway Townhomes near downtown. Eventually, Jacob’s children intervened to take over his care and control of his estate. Virginia was left with nowhere to go.
“It was extremely frightening. I was shocked,” she says. “I didn’t know anything about food banks or shelters.”
There was nothing in Virginia’s history to prepare her for the experience of homelessness. She grew up as a minister’s daughter before joining the Air Force. She’d received a degree in psychology from Metro State University and married a doctor in Jacob. There was no way she could have imagined this turn.
“I remember walking downtown on a very cold March day in 1985,” Virginia says. “I was looking at this restaurant... I looked in the window and these people were in there, in the warmth, having drinks and appetizers and food. And it was just shock I wasn’t a part of that scene anymore.”
She still struggles with her husband’s loss and that she was never able to say goodbye after his children failed to notify her of his funeral. Since then, she has been diagnosed with a range of mental health conditions including Bipolar Disorder, anxiety and PTSD.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Virginia says. “I was lost, everyone was gone. I had no support.”
But resilience is more a part of Virginia’s story than misfortune. “I never knew my limits, and now I have found my limits,” she says.
She is also finding ways to rebuild the support she lost, connecting with others from her VA group, fellow writers in her poetry group and in sessions with the Hard Times Writer’s Workshop.
“A lot of people haven’t been strong enough in my life,” Virginia says. “That includes family and friends. I think other people are coming in to fill those vacancies.”
Virginia also found an apartment through The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and moved in at the end of November.
Now, she is turning her attention to how she can help those around her who feel as isolated as she once did. Her vision is expansive with a long list of ideas for how she would like to give back. But at the root of each one is the hope to foster more understanding and connection between people.
“I want to find some way to tell people ‘you’re loved, you’re accepted, you’re cherished’,” she says. “I think if people felt love there wouldn’t be homeless on the streets.”
Her hopes include working in music therapy, a salve that has helped to pull Virginia through some of her darkest times. She also wants to start a choir that includes both people experiencing homelessness and housed individuals. Working as a creative coach or even entering politics are also on the table.
She’ll also continue creating that change and advocacy through working as a Vendor. For her, it’s more than a way to make an income.
“I’m trying to find a way to impact people who are like I was years ago,” Virginia says. “When it didn’t impact me.” ■