Nicole’s Story

A mother experiences homelessness for a second time and uses coloring to cope.

“The first time, I wasn’t expecting it, because the way things happened. This time, I’m more in control of my feelings… because it was my fault.”

[Intro noise, crowd talking, fades out]

I grew up here in Denver, Colorado. Actually, I lost my – my mom lost three kids to crib death, a boy older than me and then my youngest two siblings. So, my mom has five kids, but she only has two. And I only remember my youngest brother. I was five years old. And my mom was sick, because her liver was really _____ sick. And so I basically had to take care of my brother for my mom.

And she got put in the hospital. And we got put in the care with my uncle and I went to go spend the night with one of my relatives. And my brother was gone the next day.

And after that, my mom’s husband started molesting me and my sister for around like three years. My sister was three. Yeah. And I was five, until I was seven. One of my aunts had a feeling, that he was doing something to me and my sister. Me and my sister wouldn’t say anything, so my aunt made my mom take us to the doctor to get us checked. And that’s when our mom found out that her husband’s molesting me and my sister.

And then my mom separated from her husband. And we went through the court system for three years. And they threw the case out of court, because they said – I don’t know if this is true, but my mom said that they didn’t have a specific time and date, which I don’t understand, because it happened for three years. So that I don’t understand. So he never went to jail for what he did to me and my sister.

No, they separated. We went to live with my aunt. And then it was just my mom after that and my mom drank a lot. It was just rough. And she was on welfare till my sister was 18. ‘Cause back then they didn’t make the parents do anything. They just let them live of the system. So they never made my mom get an education. So we were on welfare and they didn’t give you that much. It wasn’t enough to really afford a place to live. So we struggled our whole life practically, just enough for the system and the welfare _____ that they gave my mom. And sometimes she would work on the weekends waitressing at a bar to make extra money, but not that much. And then my mom drank a lot and then got into sniffing paint for a few years, so I had to take care of my sister practically.

Staying with people, not having a place to live, staying with just about everybody in our family, all the friends we knew. Every now and then, my mom would find a small apartment that she could rent for us. And then that would last for a little bit and then something would happen and she wouldn’t be able to pay the rent or something. And we’d end up having to move again. My aunt, the one who made my mom take us to the doctor, and her oldest daughter. That’s where I would go on the weekends or my aunt would pick us up to go out to eat or to go hang out _____, whatever. And she tried to help my mom with _____. ‘Cause when my mom left her husband, she also took me away from my dad and I didn’t see my dad for seven years, from the time that she found out that we were molested until the time that I ran away.

He was my mom’s husband, the father of her younger two kids that passed away. He wasn’t my sister’s dad either. And my mom and dad have their own problems, so she was angry at him, so she didn’t allow us to see him or didn’t allow him to see us. And my dad was somebody I was close to before. Well, actually while the abuse was happening, that was where I used to go to get away.

When I was 15, I ran away for three months, because my mom had another abusive boyfriend and she wouldn’t leave him. And he was always beating her up. And so I ran away when I was 15 and I was gone for three months. When I came – ’cause I told her I wouldn’t come back if she was still with him – so she wasn’t with him anymore and I came back home. And I had to restart high school, ’cause my first year of high school, I messed it up. [Laughs] I ditched every class except for first period.[Laughter] So I had to start basically high school over after I came back from on the run, which I loved. My first high school, I went to Lincoln. And the second high school we went to, we went to Jefferson High School in Edgewater. And I really liked that school. I did really good at that school. I liked the teachers, I liked all my friends that I went to school with. Me and my sister were in the same grade, but she didn’t like to go to school. My mom had to fight with her every day to go to school. But I was on honor roll the whole time I was in high school there.

And we ended up having to move from there. My mom found a boyfriend that she liked. We ended up having to move from there. She kept my sister with her and I went to go stay with a relative which lived far from my school. And I didn’t want to go back to Lincoln, and that’s the area where I lived in, so I catched the bus from there all the way to Edgewater. And I did that until probably around Christmastime of my tenth grade year. So I went to high school for two – well, three years, but two years that I finished.

When I got married in–I want to say 2002. And after I got married, me and my husband and our children moved to Kentucky for a year. Well, almost a year. I liked it, ’cause we lived in the country. It was way different from living in the city and I loved it. It was a small little city, only couple restaurants, a grocery. We had to travel miles to get to a big grocery store. I loved it. I would’ve stayed out there, but I inherited bad arthritis from my dad’s family and the weather out there did not agree with my – or I’d probably still live in Kentucky.

Our marriage didn’t last very long after we moved back to Denver. All my husband’s friends were here and he was still kind of young wanted to act like a teenager still and go out with his friends instead of – so I told him, well, I can’t do it no more, we need to separate for a while, you need to decide if you want to be with your family or you want to be with your friends. And he took off after Kentucky, ’cause his mom and his stepdad were out there. So he went back out there with them. At that time I had four. When we separated, my youngest daughter was not even – I think it was right after around the time she turned a year, a couple months after she turned a year. And then the other two were _____, so three and four.

We struggled, because at that point, I didn’t work. My husband made all the money and he took care of us. So when he just took off and left, that left us with no income. Plus, I was my mama’s beneficiary on her bank account and he overdrew my mom’s account $1,500.00. So he not only left with us no income, he took money that we didn’t have. ‘Cause we had no money in the bank. She was coming to help me, but her Social Security got taken for two months because he took that money. So if it weren’t for churches and stuff, we would’ve been homeless. And my manager being reasonable with us.

Going to different churches, asking for donations. And I knew what that was like, ’cause we had to do that as kids with my mom to pay rent and stuff sometimes. And then my mom, having her Social Security. And then she had just barely got approved for her Social Security, so she was getting – every three months they would send her a few thousand dollars. So a couple months passed and then she got that again, so we were – because of my mom, we were stable. After we finally got the rent stable, I went back to school and got my GED. It only took me six months.

I don’t remember how I found out about The Gathering Place, I came before in 2008, because my older children got taken away from me, because I was drinking a lot and one of my uncles was staying with me and he was touching my girls where he wasn’t supposed to. And I didn’t tell my oldest daughter’s dad right away, ’cause I didn’t know how to tell him, ’cause I knew he was gonna overreact. And one of my family members decided to go behind my back and tell him. And on a day that I wasn’t home, he took the police to my house and told the police that I was drinking and partying all the time and that the only place my kids were safe was in the care of social services.

So they took them. I lost my apartment, so I was homeless. And then that’s when I started. And I would come to eat and to use the Internet to look for a job. They took my kids and I wasn’t expecting it. My kids was all I had. I took care of them. I hardly ever got a break from them. So when they took them, I didn’t know how to react to it, so I just drank all the time and I took my anger out on anybody who was around me. Well, I turned to drinking more for three years and I was really mean to a lot of people.

My middle three kids got sent to Arizona with their grandfather, because that was the only relative that was able to take care of the three of them and give them a stable home. So it was either that or lose them to the system. My kids went to Arizona. I still haven’t seen my girls, because they don’t even know what my lifestyle is like and they judge me, because of what it was back then. Although I went back to school to get my cosmetology license, even though I didn’t get my license, I went back to school, finished the whole year of school and quit drinking. They still judge me because of that. They don’t know better, because they drink. How are you judging me when you – my son learned how to drive when he was nine years old because his grandpa was an alcoholic. He would drive his grandpa around. You know what I mean? My kids got abused out there. I didn’t know that until recently, till my son came this last summer. Because from the way they made it seem was everything was good. Come to find out, everything wasn’t good.

And my oldest daughter that’s in Arizona, she has a boyfriend. She’s gonna get married, stuff like that, so she’s in her own life and she doesn’t really – she keeps to herself. She doesn’t really talk to too many people. She really doesn’t even get on Facebook too much. She just keeps to them, to stay away from all the drama. ‘Cause she says her dad’s family and them are a lot of drama. She ran away not this past summer, the summer before, and she wanted to come out here, but her dad wouldn’t let her, ’cause he reported her as a runaway. So she ended up staying out there. She went back home for a little bit and then when she turned 18, she found her a boyfriend and moved in with her boyfriend. They didn’t want them to come with me, so that was her next best thing. I figured something like that was going to happen. [Coughing]

But their dad doesn’t even have – shouldn’t have a reason to not want my kids to be with me, because I didn’t hurt my kids. I was still taking care of them. Whether I was drinking or not, my kids always had food to eat. They went to school every day. My kids never missed school. They had to be throwing up, pooping on everywhere before they missed school. [Laughter] Don’t try pulling that fake paper on me, fake coughs, nope. You’re going unless you’re pooping _____. Those are coming out You’re going to school.

I’m homeless again.

This situation’s kind of different. The first time, I wasn’t expecting it, because the way things happened. This time, I’m more in control of my feelings and I guess how I’m taking it, because it was my fault. [Public announcement] And I could’ve prevented it and I didn’t, ’cause I have Section 8. And I lost my Section 8, because I started selling drugs and I got raided.

Well, I was working at the thrift store. And actually, I was doing good there. I was a supervisor there. And the supervisor that was above me, I think she thought that I wanted her job, which I didn’t, because they don’t pay enough to do her job. And so she got one of the other employees to say that I left while I was supervising and there was nobody else there. So they fired me because of that and denied my unemployment. So I didn’t want to go back to work after that.

And then people I was associated with and then guys that I started seeing were – that’s what they were doing, so it fell into my lap. It was easy and I didn’t have to go look for a job. But with that, I sheltered myself, because I mainly stayed at home in my room. I guess it was because I couldn’t put my son in – make him stay in his room. So the drug use was being done in my room, so that way my kids could have the rest of the house. So that’s when that started, because the drug use was just being done in my room. And I got used to being in my room. Well, I had to take my son to school every day, pick him up from school. I would leave to go do that, but other than that, I was mainly in my room all the time.

And this time, I’m not angry, because it was my fault. It’s like I could have prevented it and I didn’t. I could’ve stopped it. People around me were telling me, “You need to stop. Get a job.” And I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah, blowing them off, blowing them off, blowing them off. “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.” So it was my fault.

Well, I didn’t turn to drinking, like that. I didn’t turn to substance abuse to deal with my emotional problems. Not that alcohol isn’t dealt with it, because it made it worse, which I realized as well. And I see people who are the way I was when my kids got taken away, and I can’t be around people like that. And I’m like, “I was a horrible person,” and I realize that and I don’t want to be that person, ’cause that’s not who I am.

I’m actually running into a lot of people that are the way I used to be, because last summer, [public announcement] I lived across the street from the Sanderson’s apartments. I don’t know if you know about them. They’re the people that live there from MHCD. So everybody that lives in that building is from MHCD. Mm-hmm, and they were all homeless. And they all have mental issues, obviously. And a lot of them have drinking problems and they have issues with the drinking problems and they get loud and obnoxious. But I think it makes me more not want to be that way.

And so some of them still have their homeless ways, and so we’re _____ or do their – to make their money or whatever. And the stores around there, some of the restaurants around there, they’re, I want to say, prejudiced against homeless people. Even 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. And it’s foreign people that aren’t from America, ’cause these, they’re not from America. I don’t know what country they’re from, but I wouldn’t say they were Americans. Maybe they don’t understand homelessness. Some people don’t know how to get out of it, or it’s an easier life for them. ‘Cause some of my friends over there have been homeless, living on the streets for years and years, even get monthly checks and they don’t change their life, ’cause they’d rather have drugs than to have a place to live and then live on the street.

Well, because if you live on the street, you don’t have to worry about no bills, so what you need a job for if you don’t have no bills? You just sleep wherever, somebody’s couch, or whatever. Oh, 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 wife, 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 certain cases, I’ve seen people, they help other people out. 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. And then this year, my arthritis was really bad here in Colorado, so I really wasn’t – in January, it was the worst. I couldn’t barely even move.I haven’t had any income since my job – yeah, my job at the thrift store and not selling drugs. And so I really don’t have an income. And I was staying with – my mom was helping me too. I was supposed to go there to help with my mom and she was taking care of me. [Laughs]

Well, I got into the mind therapy books, the coloring books. And actually, I got into it when I was doing the drugs. I would sit there and I would color. Yeah, my backpack, there’s markers on both sides of the–I got a big book in there. And in my purse, I got another thing of markers and small little things to color. Well, my apartment, I was hanging them all over my room. But I’ll give them to people. People that are special to me, I’ll give them pictures. Actually one of my friends that came up to stay with me before I lost my apartment, I got him into coloring. And he would go buy books. And we would sit there and color for hours.

And then last year for Christmas, he said he was going to frame all his and give them to all his family members for Christmas. Well, if you get into the details of your pictures, you put a lot of thought into what colors you want to use and how you want to use them in the pictures, because not all of them are – some of the books are shapes and different shapes tied together, stuff like that. So it’s not always an animal, ’cause some of the books I have are animals or butterflies. But it’s just the thought process in how you want it to come out or how you imagine it in your head and then to put it on paper. Because I have seen people do them, but they don’t put the mind process into them. And you can tell by how the coloring comes out on the pictures. ‘Cause I’ve showed people a picture somebody else has done that’s just colored real quick and then one of my pictures. They’re like, “Oh, yeah, there’s a big difference in the thought you put into the coloring and the time you took to do it.” ‘Cause one page will take me two or three days.

And that’s how I cope with a lot of my stuff. 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. It’s kind of a bittersweet thing, because it brings up old emotions, but I want people to know. If there’s somebody else that has a similar situation, they know that they’re not the only person in that situation. I feel that way a lot.

[fade back to crowd noises]