Eryka’s Story

After a one-way ticket from New York to Utah then hitchhiking to Denver, Eryka explores the city with 120 pounds on her back.

“Aside from everything else going on, I love myself a lot and I know who I am, what I am. I know what my abilities are.”

[background noise, people talking]

My main thing, the thing that gets me through every day, is that I don’t care what other people think of me. You can’t offend me, embarrass, hurt my feelings. I feel like anything that can hurt me has already been done, that sort of thing.

So I don’t let stuff bother me, because if it’s something I can change and I do something to change it, then, yay, go me. If I don’t do nothing to change it, then it doesn’t matter. It’s hard sometimes being me. [Laughs] But I smile and keep moving, because what else am I supposed to do?

I mean, that’s the big thing, is when people can just not value other people’s opinion so much or let other people influence their life to the extent that they control it more than the person whose life it is. That’s a problem.

I grew up in a small town in western New York called Lowville. I had three younger sisters. My dad shot himself in 2007, because he had cirrhosis of the liver and had a diagnosis of six months to live. I met my first kid at my dad’s funeral. And my life just seemed to change at some point.

I’ve experienced homelessness on or off since I was 16. I left foster care and was pretty much on the streets right off of foster care, ’cause I couldn’t live with my mom and dad. And it’s been fairly, fairly persistent. I don’t know if it’s the right word, but between 16 – I’m 33 now – between 16 and 33, I’ve spent seven – well, five and a half years in prison between two separate charges. And I can only really think of three apartments I might had or three places that I’ve lived at where I was actually responsible for and stuff since then.

Fast forward a little bit, I came out as transgender in January 2017. My and my mom’s relationship suffered a lot [inaudible due to crying]. It got to the point where she was asking me every other day if I found another place to go or told me I needed to. And I had a friend that went to Salt Lake City. She told me that if I came out here, she could help me and stuff. So through some magical stroke of luck, somebody else who also knew about my mom’s crappy relationship, bought me a airplane ticket to fly from Buffalo to Salt Lake City.

I flew to Salt Lake City and right off the airplane, my friend told me that she couldn’t help me for a month. So I was homeless in Salt Lake City. And I was there ten days and it wasn’t really working out. [Laughs] . I thought Salt Lake City was probably the worst place to be homeless.

I feel like here, it’s a little more accepted, in Denver. In Salt Lake City, everything was very anti-homeless. They had signs out saying not to give money to – they had boxes that you could drop your change, so that way it would keep you from giving it to people standing on the street and stuff.

So I had a choice between Las Vegas and Colorado. I knew both of them, both states would – Nevada and Colorado would pay for hormones through Medicaid. And I had my heart set on Las Vegas, but everything happens for a reason. After walking probably eight miles, ten miles, and such between a couple of different truck stops, I had found a kid that was coming to Colorado. So I rode to Colorado with him to Grand Junction. And then I hitchhiked from Grand Junction to Denver. And that was [laughs] – that wasn’t an easy task either. So I ended up in Denver probably August 24 of this year. And with the exception of a month or so I’ve been living on the street since.

And I like Denver a lot. I carry a whole bunch of stuff with me everywhere I go. So I guess depending on the day. [Laughter] I usually try going to open-door church. When I wake up or I need to call when they open for coffee, because it’s a good little break on my way up here. I’ve recently been in the Dolores shelter a couple of times, for a week. I didn’t get in this week and it’s kind of really hard on me, I guess. It’s so cold outside it’s ridiculous. My feet are numb still. I’ve been inside between open door and here for hours now and my feet are still numb. My toes are tingling.

So I go there for coffee. You stay, you have a good program going on there with the family room and stuff. They allow us to come in, charge our phones, get coffee. Then I try making my way up here to The Gathering Place for breakfast. I like to be here for breakfast and just drink some milk.

And then I usually kill a lot of time here. I didn’t leave until they closed last night. Actually, I still put my bags back together, because I carry about 120 pounds everywhere I go. I feel like if you’re going to give your — If I’m going to stash my stuff somewhere and give somebody the opportunity to take it, then I might as well get rid of it. There’s no point in stashing it. If I’m not gonna take it with me, then there’s no point in having it.

I really don’t seek out help much. Again, I’m sure you picked up on my what I’ve got going on here [laughter]. But I really don’t ask for help, either from individuals or agencies. But I like this _____, the Gathering Place. I also like the Dolores Project and what they’ve got going on there. Open Door seems more like a social gathering. But I don’t know if I want to say more helpful anymore or less___. But I have never been in the network, which is also supposed to be decent, but I try staying away from the really downtown crowd, just because the less people I meet, the better off I am, I guess.

I’m trying to think. The Center sucks. The LGBT thing down the street, yeah, they can kiss my ass. When I first came to town, I went there and asked for help. Not even necessarily help, but I asked them if they could point me in whatever direction, any kind of direction, that I – this is my situation, what advice can you give me? Where do you think I should go? Who should I contact? They didn’t even tell me where the fucking food stamp office was.

I won’t go there for any reason at all. I won’t go there for classes. I have no support for the people that should have been able to help me. It’s like, again, I’m trasngender, I’ve been on hormones for a year total now. I should have support of the LGBT community. I shouldn’t have been made to feel like an outsider.

I’ve never been to Mission. Saint Francis was a joke. I went there about trying to get a locker. Of course I walked some ridiculous distance to get there early in the morning, find out that there wasn’t any storage to stash a couple of my bags or something. ‘Cause I will do that. I’ll lock something there if I have that option.

That’s why being in a shelter was also helpful because I could leave my stuff there during the day. I had no idea I had to take it with ne on the Mondays that made me do a lottery and stuff. That’s what they do. Either way, it sounds fair or unfair.

I was in for a week and then I left that that following Monday because that’s their policy. Yeah. If you’re in an emergency, then you leave on Monday morning and then there’s a lottery here every morning for five nights, or whatever. And then at 10:00, the first time people can call to a bed. And then if people that return can call at 11:30. Well, if there’s two beds left at 11:30, then I’m the third caller, okay, fuck you. You know? [Laughs] And, well, I got fuck you this week.

And like I said, from one side, it seems unfair to, oh, well, it’s only up the street again, but I understand the whole lottery thing. You got to give other people a chance too. Again, I look at every side of things. I’m not a shelter person. It took me forever to even call there. And I finally did and I won’t call another one. There’s no other ones that I’m even interested in getting a hold of, because, one, again, I don’t ask for help; two, I guess I don’t want to ruin my deal that I have with the shelter I’m at now because it’s decent. It took me a couple of days to get used to it, but I enjoyed the people there, the regulars that that the program has right now. And now I feel, no, I don’t like not being there. [Laughs]

Yeah. I don’t really do the whole male living thing. I went to a rehab in New York and I – actually, I went to two female halfway houses after that and I don’t wanna live with a bunch of dudes. I did that for five and a half years in prison. I’m not trying to do that shit no more. [Laughs]

Yeah, so I have no interest in living with a big group of males. I found _____ _____ _____. I feel like I’m not really there, I might as well stay outside. However, I’m getting to the point where if I stay outside all this week, ’cause I think there’s a three-week cycle that there’s no lottery and stuff, yeah, but now I got to wait three weeks. If I’m going to be outside for three fucking weeks, then I don’t need you at all. I don’t know, it’s conflicting. Why? Come outside for three weeks, come back for a week just to say, ha, fuck you then? ‘Cause we already know how my luck is. [Laughs] I think that’s a shitty way to be, but I tried being positive and that doesn’t work either.


It’s like I laugh about it, because I think about [public announcement] how bad it is, but I also know this ain’t shit, because it’s just going fuckin get worse, so I just laugh about it. It’s a shitty way to think, but it’s realistic. It’s very realistic.

I don’t really travel around a lot. I pretty much stay around the east side, from here to the park somewhere. But I don’t really wander too far. I have met some great people recently on the bus on the way to Lakewood. I believe they were also homeless. But the general public, I don’t really meet too many people, in public. I don’t try begging for money. I don’t fly signs, though I don’t really put myself in positions to meet people. I would definitely rather walk down an alley than down the street.

People tend to shy away from me. And that’s another thing I don’t really understand. Some people tell me I’m intimidating and others say I’m not. And I guess I can see both sides of that. So I really can’t figure it out. I don’t know if I intimidate, but people tend to go the opposite direction from me, which is okay, because I don’t – I had a guy in Salt Lake City get up off the train and move away from me when I sat down. And I don’t care. I want to be around normal freaking people either. But why did they turn away?

I’m really confident. Aside from everything else going on, I love myself a lot and I know who I am, what I am. I know what my abilities are pretty much. Anybody would be lucky to have me as a friend, blah-blah-blah. But people shy away and I don’t understand it.

There are people though that meet me off, cut off guard. And those are usually the ones that turn up through the bus. Like given the choice, somebody meets me, people end up liking me. So the unexpected chance encounters are the best ones usually.

I’m by myself 90 percent of the time. The other ten percent is usually people that I know or run into from the other places and church. But I don’t rely on anybody for anything, except myself. Because at the end of the day, it’s me that’s responsible for me.

I do use substances. And that in its own thing is its own topic, I feel like, but I’ll try going in real quick. I feel like people misconceive homeless as people who just wander around getting high and stuff, but it makes a lot of sense to me being on this side, because I’m very intelligent. I’m not close-minded and I see different sides of every situation, because I’m an adult and that’s what I’m supposed to do.

But the drug addiction and homelessness coinciding so well each other, that makes a lot of sense. If I get high, then I don’t got to worry about what I’m going to eat or where I’m going to sleep. It makes sense. I can spend $20.00 and not care about shit for three days. For me, it’s not necessarily _____ thing. It makes stuff easier to deal with, obviously. Thankfully I’m a person that’s in control of my addiction and I know where the line is. I don’t overdo it or put myself in positions that I shouldn’t be in.

I don’t understand why every fucking situation, everything that can happen to me, everything turns out bad or just doesn’t work. It’s every trivial, little thing that happens. And then it’s just that – it’s not like, “Oh, my God, you’re crying about that.” It’s like, no, this is so simple, but this shit can’t even go right. I don’t understand it, because I’m definitely not the type of person that deserves to fucking be here with no support, no friends, no family, can’t get in the shelter. I don’t deserve this shit and I have always been there for everybody else, helping everybody else, making everybody else’s decisions easier for going — thinking for ‘em, giving them the hope that I now no longer even have for myself, because I gave it all away to everybody else. I don’t understand why everything has to be shitty. I don’t deserve it.

And it’s not my drug addiction, per se, because the only thing that I will never stop doing is smoking marijuana. I can quit on any other, not that there are any that I’m engaged in, but I can stop on anything but smoking pot for the rest of my life right now. But why when that’s the only thing that makes me fucking happy, because everything else fucking sucks.

I haven’t been getting high in the last four days of so, because that isn’t even fuckingndoing it anymore. I’m experiencing an old feeling recently. And honestly, this seems to be a very great thing, ’cause I’ve seen a couple posts on Facebook raving about it.

Not wanting to commit suicide, because I’m definitely not suicidal. But I don’t really fucking care to be breathing anymore. I don’t want to commit suicide, but I don’t necessarily want to be alive. But I don’t let shit bother me. As an adult, I feel like I’m solely responsible for anything that happens to me. I can’t put my issues on other people, because it wasn’t you that made the decision, it was me. And as an adult, I feel like we should all automatically know what any outcome of any situation could be, because by you still making the choice that you make, you’re accepting that you can deal with whatever that consequence is or whatever the outcome is, whether if it’s positive or negative.

So I don’t know, I’m trying. I would like to stay here, although in a better situation. I think that’s why I’m trying to stick out the winter so bad, because I’m the kind of person, I’m not going to just leave here for the winter and go somewhere else and then come back. I’m gonna go somewhere else, go through all the bullshit, meet new people again, learn new places. Then I might as well just fucking stay there, since I put the effort into it. So I’m trying to stick it out here, because I do want to stay here.

I do like it here. I do like Denver in general. 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 because it’s 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 birth certificate and wait six weeks. It’s not something I can do. I financially do not have it. I looked at Craigslist Gigs on — I got a phone. I will not without a phone. Even if I am plugging it in here or there for a couple of minutes or use a Wi-Fi for the two more minutes that it might be on before it dies. I use my phone for everything. That’s how I figure out what I got to figure out for stuff that I could do without having an ID and stuff, because there’s so many people that are going there that I can’t get fucking lucky. I found two since I’ve been in Denver.

So I’m trying. I got apparently another post to get a new job. 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.

You can’t go to a dispensary.. I can’t get into a lot of buildings that have security. If I have a friend that lived, hypothetically, out by a bus station, his building across the street a security guard at 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 have is a no-go. It has a seal. It’s just stupid. Especially since my county doesn’t keep birth records. They should understand that. 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 works. [Laughs]

I really feel like there’s no place that I can go in United – I don’t know one person in the United States that would just be like, “Yeah, you should come here.” Not that I wouldn’t turn down any thing from anything else. [Laughs] And that’s a hard thing too. I don’t see sympathy from anybody.

As a community, I feel like I think a lot of people need to worry about themselves more than they worry about other people. I see a lot of unstability, I feel like. I see a lot of disrespectful acts. Like I don’t understand why if you’re digging trash out of a dumpster you can’t pick up that bag you just dumped out on the ground before you leave. Like, it takes two second, man.

if we, the homeless, the population, don’t – I can understand why they would believe that – they don’t know that I’m not that homeless person dumping garbage outside. They don’t know I’m not that guy that fucking is pushing a shopping cart with 12 fucking speakers that who knows how they’re charging old fucking – is walking by their house at 2 A.M. while their kids is all sleeping. They don’t know that that’s not me. So I can’t say that they should look at us differently, because I understand the kinds of shitty things that people do. Until that kind of stuff changes, it’s not gonna change.

I’ve already established that I use substances. I went into a restaurant and went into a bathroom one night. As I was going into, as this kid was coming out, of the stall I was going in. And there was a needle floating in the toilet. And I called him back in there and I told him, I was honest with him, I’m like, “I’m goin in here to do the same the fucking thing you just did. But there’s no reason for that shit.” And now I think of scenarios that could have happened or how that could’ve played out even worse than I had originally thought about it. That’s the kind of shit we already have so few places we can use the bathroom, it’s ridiculous. And not every junkies go into the bathroom to get high. Some people do have respect.

I will not sit outside. Yeah, I don’t do that, because although I have no secrets, I feel like not everything’s for everybody. Nobody needs to be subjected to me doing that. And I’m not saying that people need to adapt my attitude or whatever, but if they were more mindful of stuff they were doing and how it was affecting other people, stuff might be a little different.

I know even if there’s one person that listens to me talk, or reads whatever, it’s gonna make somebody think about something a little bit differently and make not look at every fucking person walking the street with a big bag [inaudible due to public announcement] as a fucking junkie that just doesn’t want to work or something. I’m all about having people open up their minds and view situations different or maybe put their thoughts in a different area.

Don’t be so judgmental and, I don’t know, so full of heat or something. You don’t know what the person that – you just called a bum, you know? You don’t know what somebody’s going through or what their thought process is. There’s a lot of mental illness going on. And I don’t believe that’s just in a – obviously it’s not just in the homeless community, but it’s just as prevalent outside too.

I don’t have secrets. I don’t hold shit back. I gave you my real thoughts. And again, I signed up to do this, because I felt maybe people could benefit from meeting a real opinion, real information coming from somebody that’s gonna give their real thoughts and stuff, I guess, today.

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