Episode 2: The Tyranny of Logistics
How do you get by when you can’t prove who you are?
“I will. I’ll work. But where? How?”
[Intro music plays]
Dale: “I mean–I’ve died on the streets so many times”
Analyn: I say are you helping me to get out of this or are you taking my kid from me? I just had that feeling.
Marissa: “My new lover now thinks that he keeps saying, “Be stronger.” But I am stronger. There’s the difference.”
Eryka: I would definitely rather walk down an alley than down the street.
Donjuan: “But I was always kind of in the gut of the city, so to speak, looking for things, trying to – curious. Even here, just curious and roaming.”
Nicole: When I get stressed out, I’ll color. Or if my mind starts thinking too much, coloring is how I cope with a lot of – just about everything, actually.
Lucky: and pretty much he saw the crown that I wear on top of my head which is invisible to most, sometimes even me.
[end intro music]
Alison: Okay hi everyone, this is Episode 2 of When you are homeless, my name is Alison
Blake: And I’m Blake. Before we get into the topic of today’s podcast, which is really gonna be about the tyranny of logistical concerns that many of our storytellers have gone through and what that might mean from them, we know that you’ve had a chance by now to listen to Lucky’s story, which was released last week. Yeah, and in fact, throughout every episode that we do, we’ll refer to multiple stories. And it might be the case that we refer to one that you haven’t heard yet, but that is coming down the line, um, consider that a teaser, I guess, for what’s later to be released. So, Alison and I wanted to talk just briefly about it. Um, maybe perhaps for some of you, as a teaser, if you didn’t listen to it this would give you a reason to go back; and if you have listened to it, maybe it’d be interesting to hear from you what you thought about it. At any rate, these are things that we thought. I’m curious, what was your immediate reaction to it, Alison?
Alison:Yeah, and maybe we could also talk about why we wanted to drop Lucky’s story first, and I think what really stuck out about Lucky’s storytelling, to me, was how she really, like zooms in one that one week. And she’s like, My whole life changed in this one week, and I’m going to tell you about that one week.
Alison:So it was very, like, I think — not compared, but, within all of our storytellers, it did seem the most, almost the most narrative-driven, the story itself. Like her story was very easy to edit.
Alison:It’s just like, she was telling it as her story that pivoted around this one precise week.
Blake: Yeah, she structured it like she was a short story writer.
Blake: That’s crazy.
Alison:And so many of her lines were so poetic. I even said that to her after, like, do you write poetry? Besides her song-writing, she does? But she seemed surprised that I said that, but I thought that so many things that she said were very um, very beautifully constructed. Her sentences.
Blake: Right, I remember that, too. And I, I remember so many vivid, specific memories that she recalled aloud, but for me one of those would have been that moment where she was sitting on the corner crying, right, and this cabby comes by, offers her naan bread, um. I also just, the way that she introduced herself, the story she told about her personality, it was super engaging, super bubbly, even.
Alison:And she ended so hopefully, you know. She, like, when we, when I spoke with her she was in this really hopeful place. And, again, we’ve mentioned this a little bit on the podcast already, but it is strange, we don’t know where she is now.
Alison: Like we don’t know if she went to that festival she wanted to go to, or we don’t know if she, um
Blake: Is she singing somewhere?
Alison: Yeah. Is she singing? Is she still with that partner she found and seemed to really appreciate.
Alison: Does she have her daughter back? [laughs]. We don’t know.
Alison: So, today with tyranny of the logistics, um, we, we first got interested in this — well, A, we were noticing this as a trend within several of the stories-tellers, storytellers we spoke with. Um, many people just having barriers. And as we discussed in the last episode, some people felt, um, they were at fault to encounter these barriers, others kinda felt like the barriers were coming to them. Um, so in this episode we’ve just kind of taken out a couple snips of, um, some of, five storytellers’ stories, um, to just kinda, I think with the goal to sort of give a range of what these logistical concerns might be. So it’s obviously not all of them, it’s representing a few of them.
Blake: So, for example, think about this. What, what would happen if you just suddenly, I don’t know, there was a flood in your house and you lost your wallet, and you lost your ID and your birth certificate and your social security card, and someone stole all of your money. Like [laughs] it seems like an easy place to start but actually there’s, there’s all kinds of things that such an event might lead you to have to deal with that you would never think of having to deal with. And then compound that with a lack of knowledge, a lack of resources, and there you have maybe a kind of understanding of what, at a very basic level, some of these people are up against. Um —
Alison: And even, yeah, even from the opposite direction, thinking of something that seems so simple, how it can really uh, ruin your day. Like I’m thinking, like once I forgot my silly student ID here, and it meant I couldn’t access things at the library and it just, like, halted everything. And the stakes were very low there, but you’ll hear from our storytellers, one missed piece of plastic [laughs] means they can’t get a job, it means they can’t get access to buildings.
Blake: This is reminding me of a time six months ago that I just left my keys in my classroom. And I took the bus home, so I didn’t even think about not having
Alison: Oh, no!
Blake: My keys until I got home. And then I couldn’t get into my apartment —
Alison: No! [laughs]
Blake: And I came back, and it was like five hours of my life that were —
Alison: Just fell in a hole —
Blake: I mean, this speaks to, I guess, my privilege but like,
Blake: I was so fucking pissed, and I was so annoyed, and I just felt lost.
Blake: Like who am I if I don’t, if I can’t get into my own apartment when I want? It was so disorienting. And that is, you know, one one-hundredth of the kind of thing that these people are facing pretty much every day. Really.
Alison: Right, right.
Blake: I’m also reminded of just last Friday, when I was working at St. Francis, there was this guy shouting at the top of his lungs to anyone who would listen about how Stout Street Clinic, a clinic that provides medical services to the homeless, would not fill his prescription. And he had tried this way, and he had tried that way, and he’d called this person, and he’d called that person. And now he just wanted anyone who would listen to listen. And, having just thought about all this stuff in this episode, I was just fully reminded of the state of mind, of frustration, that is just a kind of, I wouldn’t even say low-grade anxiety, but, like, high-grade anxiety that exists every moment, for many of the people that we talked to.
Alison: Also, I mean, uh, thinking, yeah, maybe this person wanted everyone to listen; there’s also, though, that, uh, frustration where you just have to shout about somethin’? And where do a lot of us do that, we do that in our cars or in our homes. And if you don’t have a private space, where you gonna shout out that frustration?
Blake: Yeah, for me it’s my car.
Alison: Right, right.
Blake: It’s insane. If anyone watches me in my car, I —
Alison: What’s that horrible show? Where they plant cameras? [laughs]
Blake: Oh my God.
Alison: In your car.
Blake: I don’t know, but I never wanna be on it, and yet I would be a prime candidate to be on it.
Alison: [Laughter] Noted. Noted. So I think, first we’re, we kinda, we have a couple different, like I said, examples of different, uh, logistical barriers that might come up for our storytellers. So first we’re gonna hear from Devin and Eryka. Both of them talk about problems with ID cards. As a reminder, Devin was the one who talked a bit about, uh, how he was seeing himself during prison and then after prison — I think he called himself a runner. Um, and then Eryka is the one who, for some reason this always sticks with me, she says “I’m alone 90% of the time.” So she, she spoke a lot about loneliness and being very confident and independent.
Blake: So here’s Devin.
Devin [recorded previously]: I went to sleep in the alley. I lost my wallet. I had $60.00. I had my ID, my driver’s license. I had my social security card. I lost everything. So, that put me back all the way because now I couldn’t even get a job. I’ve got to go back and get everything. So, that’s the only reason I couldn’t get a job I wanted. I had my birth certificate though and some medical records. So, I went to social security and I filled out a social security form. So, that’s coming in the mail. My mom was so helpful. She ordered my driver’s license online and had it sent here. So, that’s really it. They had to give me everything to go to get Colorado identification. So, that’s a process. That’s what had me so tight. It’s like I can’t even really work because I don’t have any identity.
Blake: So there, when you listen to Devin, I think one thing that sticks out to me a little bit, is just that he’s able to rely on his mom, which is absolutely not the norm, I would say. And when you listen to his story when it drops, you will see, he’s come from Raleigh, North Carolina to Denver, kind of arbitrarily. And so he’s really far from home, but he does have a mother who’s in contact with him and who cares for him. Imagine how much more difficult it would have been for him, had he not been able to say, Hey, Mom, can you send me my birth certificate? Which is absolutely the case for a lot of the people —
Alison: Exactly the case for Eryka, who we’ll hear from next.
Eryka [recorded previously]:
And I’m just in a shitty position, man, like I can’t get my ID is expired. October 7 was my birthday and my ID was expired. I need to get a new one. I have a voucher and everything. So I can get it paid for. Well, the DMV won’t take my birth certificate _____ stamped by my town. It’s got to have the county seal on it, or state seal. Well, my county doesn’t do birth records. So it’s my town or the state. I don’t have $60.00 to fucking buy my birth certificate and wait six weeks. It’s not something I can do. I financially do not have it. I looked at Craigslist Gigs for stuff that I could do without having an ID and stuff, because there’s so many people that are doing that that I can’t get fucking lucky. I found two since I’ve been in Denver. So I’m trying. I definitely am not opposed to getting a job. I will, I’ll work. But where, how? So without an income, I can’t do that. Again, I really don’t pay for the other stuff I do, so it’s not like, “Oh, my God, you’re a drug addict, but you can’t get your –” No, it’s not like that.
I can’t go to a dispensary. I can’t get into a lot of buildings that have security. Like if I knew somebody… If I have a friend that lived, hypothetically, out by a bus station, his building across the street has a security guard, a man peering through the window.
And again, I can show you right in my purse, I have everything I need. But in that purse, I also have a paper from the DMV stating that the birth certificate____. I don’t know if there’s somebody I could get a hold of? I tried calling Metro Caring to see if they could help me get my birth certificate and they won’t return my phone calls. Just nothing fuckin works.
Alison: So, when you listen to Eryka’s story, you will hear how she’s explained that the relationship with her mom has — that’s one of the reasons she came to Denver, actually, is the relationship with her mom kinda got toasted when she came out as transgender. So, for someone like Eryka, unlike with Devin who could ask his mom cuz he’s out of state for this documentation, to ask Eryka to do that is not just asking her to write a couple of emails, it’s like asking her to dig into this very painful relationship that she may not want to open up again. Um, and I was looking at, just some information about ID cards and how to get documentation when you need it, and in some states — it is different by every state —
Blake: I’m so stupidly fascinated by this —
Alison: Yeah! Me too, no, me too [laughs]. I mean honestly, this is sort of my dissertation a little bit. It’s different by every state. Some may accept your, quote, sworn statement of identity: I promise this is who I am. First of all, the government website, USA.gov, says that ID cards, quote, help you prove who you are, where you live or work, and what benefits you’re entitled to. So I just think that phrase is interesting, prove who you are. So, in some states you can just, they’ll accept your sworn statement of identity, this is if you have nothing else that shows that. Another state, quote, may accept a notarized letter from your mother or father, whose name is on your birth certificate along with the copy of their photo ID, end quote. So again, someone like Eryka couldn’t be like, hey mom — Eryka also lost her father — she couldn’t be like, hey Mom and Dad, can you help me get back on track here? That’s not really an option for her.
Blake: And even in the case where you’ve got a mother or father who’s actually in your life who’s gonna help you, even then it’s gonna take a while for this to happen. And what are you doing while you’re waiting? You’ve got nothing to do, you’ve got nowhere to go. Every minute feels like an hour, and you’ve gotta wait six weeks? or Eight weeks?
Alison: Exactly. Yeah, it’s usually six weeks, I think Eryka said six weeks, Devin — I like what Devin said, he said, That’s what had me so tight. He can’t even work without his identity. And, the thing is, these things really compound, like, you’re talkin’ social security card, birth certificate, driver’s license, state ID: each of these documents could cost between ten to seventy dollars. Plus, about six weeks. So again, you’re not working during that time. You just need one stupid ID card to get a job: six weeks down, cuz you don’t have it. Even something as silly as a legal name change, which might come up if you’re transgender, for example. That could be a months long process that costs at least two hundred dollars.
Blake: Good lord.
Alison: So that’s even before you’re getting the rest of the documentation, before you can get your job, before you can get your apartment.
Blake: Right. Wow.
Alison: So, it is interesting. I found that in Colorado, anyway, there is an organization called The Colorado ID project that is just flat-out designed to help people get ID assistance, basically overcome barriers to getting IDs, which just shows how much of a problem this is. Um, it’s perhaps not surprising, they state on their website, that the populations most affected by barriers to ID are, now I’m quoting, those experiencing poverty or homelessness, the elderly on fixed incomes, victims of domestic violence, people with disabilities, individuals with mental health struggles, young people out of foster care, transgender people, and those who are distanced from families and support systems. So these are all people, um, for whom these challenges are even harder. And again, these documents are just the first step of even moving in any direction.
Blake: Right, once you have these IDs, it’s not like the logistical concerns disappear, it’s just that one of fifteen hurdles has been cleared. For sure.
Alison: And I actually wanted to add one more interesting, just detail about this. Even, so, some folks born here, like, as citizens, just born in the United States, they just weren’t born in a hospital so they don’t have a birth certificate. That, too, can throw you down this paper loop, that’s kind of endless. The Colorado ID project gives an example of some birth certificates have spelling errors or incorrect information, or it might be incomplete, like it says “baby boy,” that’s the example they give, instead of someone’s name. So if that’s on your birth certificate, some places might not take then, and then you’d have to go through the whole process of getting your birth certificate changed.
Blake: Good lord, yeah, it’s just. It must feel insurmountable. I mean, if that’s all you’re thinking about? I mean, what else do you have to think about? Like, your whole psychology is fixated on “I need to get a job, I need to get out of this situation”; and the thing that you have that’s standing in your way is this ID. So, if there are any of these barriers of like a misspelling or maybe you didn’t check the mail that day and it came and you didn’t realize it, like, everything that you’re working toward feels like it’s been shut down.
Alison: Absolutely, and for people experiencing homelessness, it’s such a pause. Like, even just that six weeks thing, so, a lot of this is done by mail and they need to mail you the official documents; if you don’t have a permanent residence you can use — maybe you’re using an address at the St. Francis Center or The Gathering Place or some day shelter, that kinda means you have to stick around for six weeks.
Alison: And maybe some opportunity comes up in Philadelphia but you can’t go cuz you’re stuck here waiting.
Alison: And actually that website, again, it said something pretty interesting, that it can be a vicious cycle of needing an ID to get an identity document in order to get an ID.
Blake: Yeah. It’s really nice how they lay it out like that. Can we give a shout-out to the website, what’s the address?
Alison: It’s the Colorado ID project and it is a wordpress website so I would just google Colorado ID project.
Blake: Great. ID cards aren’t the only logistical barrier that people face. Let’s say that Devin and/or Eryka end up getting what they need, or any of the other six storytellers. There’s other types of things that would happen after that that would be equally frustrating and equally a barrier to success of any kind. And now we’re gonna hear from, um, Donjuan, who was up against a trouble with trying to apply for housing. Which is something that I see at St. Francis all the time, people come in and they want me to help them write a letter to a potential landlord, or they want me to help them fill out a form for a housing application. And so here’s Donjuan talking about that process for himself.
Donjuan [recorded previously]: But this place call me back. Like I told them, I’m not doing another freaking – see, they go credit and I don’t have the best credit. I don’t have no credit. Never did anything with credit. So, you have these people that want to do these checks. I’m like, “Man, I might as well just be sitting – put $1,000.00 just for application fees, because I literally went through about $600.00 but I ain’t buying no stuff.” So, I literally told them – I’m not doing a – I’m not paying an application fee.
Alison: Yeah, and for those who are not in Denver, housing is a big topic in Denver right now. Everyone’s sort of stressed out about finding a place to live and rent’s raising. So it’s, by which I mean it’s competitive. So there’s, like you better have a good background, you better have documentation of that background.
Blake: And I think that this is an issue that probably is true no matter what American city you might be in, or I don’t know how it is internationally, but it’s difficult to travel in this country, anyway, to a city without seeing some effect of gentrification that’s raised rents. And that has a direct effect on people’s ability to literally find a home. And especially in this kind of competitive world that Alison’s describing, I — it’s a gamble to apply anywhere when the application fee can be fifty dollars and it takes you most of a week to make that. I mean, you really have to be judicious in where you decide to apply. Or you have to be charming enough to try to get someone to not, to waive the fee for you.
Alison: And I think, and it definitely becomes even more complicated if you have kids, obviously. Which is something we’re, we saw with, we see with a few of our storytellers. Both Nicole and Analyn have experience trying to find housing with their kids. And for this episode we’re going to play you a clip from Nicole.
Nicole [recorded previously]: one of my really good friends that’s homeless in the neighborhood, he got there because his kids got taken away and he felt that if he can’t have his kids in his life, why go to work, why get a job, why? He says, “They’re still not gonna give me my kids back. They’re still not gonna let me even see my kids.”
In my case, I needed my kids to get housing. But in order to get housing, I needed my kids. So it was like I needed one to get the other. When I had my older kids, I paid for rent. I wasn’t on Section 8 or living in the project under that. And then when my kids got taken away, I tried to get that kind of assistance and they wouldn’t help me, because I didn’t have my kids. ‘Cause my kids weren’t in my care. But in order to going to my kids back, I needed to have a place to live.
Blake: I mean it’s such a, I mean, the classic literary term, it’s a Catch-22, right? And I’ve certainly seen lots of that at St. Francis, people complaining about having one thing, or not having one thing but needing a second thing to get the first.
Alison: It’s the same as that ID cycle, you need to show an ID to get ID so that you can get your ID.
Blake: Yeah. Totally.
Alison: And also, I mean, when you listen to Analyn’s story, also, she has a lot to say about her experience with social services and how they have complicated her life with her children.
Blake: And look, it’s no secret that going to a governmental office sucks.
Blake: But compound it with a number of these other factors that you’ll see over the course of these episodes, and it’s difficult to even imagine how impossible this might be; for some designated period of time, it is impossible and in that time there’s nothing for them to do.
Alison: Right. And if you’re travelling by bus to go to all these different offices across town.
Blake: We’re gonna listen next to a clip from Dale. Dale, who has a few physical ailments that I should probably describe in advance of this clips. So, he’s got this, I don’t quite know how to describe it medically, and I wasn’t, I didn’t feel it was my place to ask, and since he didn’t talk about it I didn’t follow up on it; but he’s got a, a severely disfigured finger that sort of stays shut-closed, like a fist would, it’s his pinkie finger. And it sort of puts his hand in this strange cramp that doesn’t allow him to carry anything with that hand.
Alison: And as a reminder, Dale is the one who built speakers.
Blake: Right, Dale who built speakers. I’m, I’m really excited for you guys to listen to what he has to say about his life, it’s fascinating. But on this question of logistical concerns, it’s a different kind than what you’ve heard from Nicole or Donjuan or Devin. In this case, the problem is literally just getting down the block given this physical ailment of his hand — and he’s got a couple other medical issues that you’ll hear him talk about. So here he is, talking about that:
Dale [recorded previously]: What I see is – you know, I had two sleeping bags – and I was put in an impossible position of having to move stuff. With my groin I don’t walk very fast. I use a crutch; I can’t lift anything with this hand. And if I’ve got a big pile of stuff on the street I’m dragging it down a third of the block; another pile a third of the block; another pile a third of the block. So nine times in a block to move this damn pile. And people are going behind me and just stealing my stuff.
Blake: So, imagine you’ve just spent six weeks getting an ID and then you’re walking down a block and everything gets stolen and you gotta start over. I mean this is — it’s, we can’t over-emphasize how many different angles these logistical issues are coming at people from. And we’re just giving examples of one logistical concern with each of a bunch of different people; but, it’s certainly the case that many homeless people, people experiencing homelessness, are dealing with multiple of these things at one time. And that’s not even to say anything of the many other kinds of issues that we’ll speak about in later episodes.
Alison: And this — I mean obviously, this doesn’t even get in to, like immigration issues or different statusus; I think everyone we spoke to was an American citizen — we didn’t ask that, but, it didn’t seem like people were expressing problems with immigration status. And if you’re experiencing homelessness and have immigration status concerns, these are just, like, they really do seem to feel impossible.
Blake: Right. And by the way, this is one thing that a couple of these shelters provide. I know that for example, St. Francis Center, a huge service that they provide to their clientele is just room to store stuff. Which for someone like Dale would be invaluable, so that he wouldn’t have to worry about this problem.
Alison: Eryka mentions that, too, although she does say that, um, I think she has, “I had to walk miles to get there and then there wasn’t space available”
Alison: So there’s so many few places in Denver that offer something as basic as lockers, so people are hauling all of their stuff and then there’s no space.
Blake: Yeah, and I know last episode I mentioned this movie called Homeless; I’m thinking right now of a scene from it in which, um, this kid, you know he makes a little bit of money being one of those guys that points the arrow at the restaurant
Alison: Okay [laughter]
Blake: And when he gets paid in cash at the end of the day, he finds a friend who lets him stay on his couch and like the first thing that he does when he gets into that space, is he unzips a pillow and sticks the cash literally under the pillow that he sleeps under.
Blake: And even when you see that, you’re like, this is not gonna go well —
Blake: But, what other option does someone have on the street? Like, you’ve gotta carry everything with you, and the chances that you’re gonna get stuff stolen seem incredibly high, and I think we see that across all of the people that we’ve described.
Alison: Everyone mentions having stuff stolen, or being worried about their stuff getting stolen. And it’s a reason, I’ve heard other people — not necessarily from these storytellers — explain why they don’t want to stay in shelters. Is that, shelters are places where things get stolen.
Blake: That’s right. So anyway, that’s uh, sort of like, a number of different kinds of logistical concerns that you can see. I hope that this episode has gotten you to see that these people are facing. What do you think, Alison, are there any, kind of, like, concluding thoughts you have about that?
Alison: Yeah, I mean again, just emphasizing the complexity. And, and maybe thinking of this, this is sort of um, one of those ways that those of us who have not experienced homelessness can kind of connect empathically. With empathy (empathically?). Like Blake and I were saying, we all have these very low-stakes experiences where we lose our keys or we lose our driver’s license, or we have to go to the DMV, and it’s such a drag. And I think it — like you said, Blake, no one likes it, it’s never fun.
Blake: And it’s always a joke when we talk about it, right. Oh, I had to go to the DMV, let me tell you about the crazy guy who told me the thing in line.
Alison: Well I think the best, the best depiction of that is perhaps from Zootopia. You seen that?
Blake: [laughter] No.
Alison: The DMV employee is a sloth?
Alison: And so there’s a sloth behind the counter, and you know everyone’s rushed and the sloth is slowly processing things.
Blake: And I can totally imagine, one of the people, the five people that we’ve had speak to these logistical concerns, watching that, and not laughing, like pointedly not laughing.
Alison: [laughter] Right. Not funny.
Blake: Like, no, this is my life, and it sucks, so stop laughing about it.
Alison: Right, yeah.
Blake: I don’t know that might be a projection.
Alison: [Laughter] I think you’re right. Um, so, but this is maybe one of the ways that we can begin to sort of guess at what it’s like to experience what some of these people are going through. Like we keep saying, though, like multiplied by many many factors.
Blake: Right. Yeah, I mean we got an hour of a story of each of eight people. Um, there are plenty of things that we probably did not hear about all of them that, um, we can imagine might fall under the category of logistical barriers. So that’s what we’ve got for now. Um, much like last time, in between episodes 1 and 2, you saw that we released Lucky’s story; there’ll be another story released, we’ll keep it from you, which one it will be.
Alison: And actually this time you will get two stories, but we won’t say who. You can guess if you want.
Blake: And, one more time, much like last time, we’ll end with a quote from one of our storytellers. And we’ll see you next time.
Nicole [recorded previously]: one of the 7-Elevens tried putting “no homeless people inside of the store” on a piece of paper and post it on the window. Yeah. One of the customers took a picture of it and posted it up on Facebook. It wasn’t up the next time I went to the store. They had taken it down. But the owners of that store, it’s mainly the lady. She tried telling me that I couldn’t go in there because I was friends with a homeless person. People are really cruel.
[exit music starts]
Alison: For web design and sound support, thanks to Jonathan Howard.
Blake: Our theme music was composed by Geoff Stacks
Alison: For support for interview space and scheduling, thanks to Melanie Deem and The Gathering Place
Blake: And at St. Francis Center, thanks for Andrew Spinks for permissions and support. Also thanks to the DU—the University of Denver and its Executive Director, Doug Hesse.
Alison: And another special thanks to Juli Parrish , Director of the University of Denver Writing Center
Blake: Thanks also to Kateri McRae for sound support and equipment, and to Andrea Sanz for social media outreach and photography.
Alison: Thank you, Chris Bunch
Blake: And thank you, Sarah Hoffman. See you next week.