The 30-Day Challenge is an interactive way to help raise awareness and money to help those in need in our community. This project provides 30 days worth of journaling, reading assignments and small donations. Participants engage in a small awareness-raising activity every day for 30 days.
The 30 Day Challenge is an easy way for people to get involved and to be educated about the realities of homelessness. Just print the challenge, encourage others to participate with you and then simply mail in your donations for the 30 days to 113 E 12th Street, Cincinnati Ohio 45202.
*The average $ amount of donations over the 30 days is approximately $10-$15.
My name is Tommy Thompson, I am 42 years old; I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I grew up in the suburb of Lincoln Heights. I have two brothers and one sister, I am the oldest. Growing up I had a good family life. My parents did their very best to raise me and my siblings, to be honest, caring and responsible adults. My mom was a school teacher, and my dad was a factory worker.
Even though my parents were employed we were still poor. At that time in my life, I had assumed that we were rich, because my parents provided everything that we children needed, and we had stability. We were not a religious family we were non- denominational. I have never been married; as a result I do not have any children. I graduated from a trade school (Scarlet Oaks), in Industrial Maintenance that includes plumbing, electrical and HVAC. I have some college experience, but the majority of my skills were self-taught.
Over the years I have worked as a plumber. During this time in my life, I was working for a company that required me to travel. It was great, I did this for about five years, I got an opportunity to visit different cities, I probably would not have gotten to visit otherwise, plus the salary was good. At one time in my life I worked for myself. I started a Handy Man Services. It was successful for about twelve years until the economy started to decline. I also started a music production company; I wrote songs and played Bass instruments. The majority of the people that I worked with during that time are doing great things in the music industry today.
When I became homeless, I was in denial for a long time. I did not have any substance abuse issues, or mental illness that would contribute to me becoming homeless. Those are the images that I had associated with homelessness. The economy started declining and I started getting fewer and fewer contracts for work so eventually I had to close my business. Eventually I was unable to afford housing.
As I stated, I was in denial, I just plain refused to believe that I was homeless. I was constantly job seeking, months on end. Eventually I started living in my work van. During my life the only struggle I had encountered was being a perfectionist. I had always expected one hundred and ten percent from myself, with any situation that I encountered in life. I had always had a sense of self and felt that I was destined for greatness. I believed that I would do great things in life and I had always expected the best performance from myself.
During my school years the teachers and my classmates always elected me to represent the class. As a child I would always ask my father what did he want me to be when I grew up and he always responded that I could be anything that I wanted to be as long as I put my mind to it. I always believed him.
I lived in my van for eight months, I would not ask family for help because, and they had never experienced job loss, or homelessness, or any other crisis. Their perception of the predicament I was in was that there was some other cause. Their thoughts were, “He lost his business, what did he do to cause that”.
At first I did not seek assistance from the resources that are available to homeless persons in OTR, like the soup kitchens. I started meeting others that were in the same situation as me and had become homeless because of the decline in the economy. I could relate to them, and became aware that my situation was not unique and that there are different causes of homelessness, and that everybody has a story. After that realization I had only one goal, and that was to get off the streets. I started to pray and ask God to give me the strength, and to help me help myself out of this situation, and that this situation is not in vain.
One day I was walking past the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, I said to myself, “that is a long name.” I walked in and was told that because of my homeless status I could use the telephone for free and use the Coalition’s address to receive mail, since I did not have a mailing address. I started reading the literature that is posted for resources for the homeless population, as I was reading I heard a woman’s voice; she introduced herself as Jenni Jenkins, Director of Education and Development at GCCH. I was surprised and shocked, Ms. Jenkins, talked with me as if she had known me all of my life. She asked me if I would be interested in becoming a distributor of Streetvibes, I explained that I was not interested in selling Streetvibes, I did not want anyone to see me standing around the city selling papers, what I needed was a job. Ms. Jenkins explained to me that being a Streetvibes distributor is not about selling papers, it is about networking with the public by sharing your story. Initially, I did not agree with Ms. Jenkins, but she was so nice that I thought that I would at least give it a try.
One day I was out and I met a gentleman, I asked him if I could have two minutes of his time, also I informed him that I was not going to try and sell him anything, I just wanted him to hear my story. After the two minutes, the gentleman asked me how much the Streetvibes publication costs; I told him a one dollar donation. He said to me that one dollar is not going to help me get back on my feet. He ended up donating about forty three, forty – four dollars to me. That was a blessing, it helped out, and more than anything else the experience gave me hope that things were going to be ok. This business man did not look down on me or my situation, and gave me the respect that all humans deserve despite their circumstances. I showered at Mary Malden House and started to get more esteem and confidence in myself.
There was a fast food business that I would visit often; I would always ask the manager if there were any job opportunities available. I was always told that there was nothing open at that time, I feel that the manager thought that I was not serious or that I would not be reliable. I persisted and continued to enquire, the manager saw that I was sincere and offered me a position. I started out as a back house cook, eventually I did not know what my job title was because I was performing every job duty at the establishment. I did whatever needed to be done so that the business would run smoothly. I did all of this in a uniform. During my life span I had never thought that I would be employed by an employer that would require me to wear a uniform. It was a humbling experience. I stopped buying chips, and other snacks that I had called a meal, and started saving my earnings. I found an efficiency apartment and when I received the keys I had a really big sigh of relief.
Eventually I bought another truck, and I promised myself that, as long as I was able to, I would help others that were going through the same experience that I had undergone. Today, I am an advocate for the homeless population. Since March 2009, I have worked with the “Voice of Homeless” Speakers Bureau at the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. The Coalition understands that education is a key component in eradicating homelessness. The Speakers Bureau is made up of currently or formerly homeless individuals who are willing to share their experiences being homeless. I believe that telling my story is therapeutic and empowers me to move forward with my life.
Since coming to the Homeless Coalition I have spoken to over 3,500 people through over 150 speaking engagements. I also spoke in 2010 at the Affordable Housing Advocates Annual Meeting as well as lead student groups on tours of downtown Cincinnati where I talked about life on the streets and teach students how I and other Streetvibes distributors vend the Streetvibes Newspaper. Streetvibes distributors donate 50 cents per copy and sell it for a one-dollar and fifty cent donation. They keep the profit that they have earned. This program has helped hundreds of people find and maintain housing.
Streetvibes targets homeless and formerly homeless individuals who require supplemental income. For me Streetvibes was a hand up and that helped me move from homelessness to housing. My experience with homelessness has had a positive outcome and I’ve dedicated my life to helping homeless individuals. I started a non-profit, tommygives.worldpress.com. The mission statement is: “To inspire and engage in giving on all levels in order to build a stronger more connected life.” I plan to purchase abandoned buildings and turn them into affordable housing. (i.e. Transitional and Section 8).
At most homeless shelters an individual has to have mental or substance abuse issues to qualify for long term services. My desire is to target the population that has been dislocated because of the economy, and /or job loss, they are the new homeless and a growing population. My experience being homeless has changed the direction of my life for the better.
Day 6- Lauren Lovett’s Story
My name is Lauren Lovett and I am twenty-one years old. My life started off fairly normal, I had a mom, dad, two older brothers, and eventually I had a little sister. I was raised in the suburbs of Cincinnati, primarily the North College Hill/ Finney town area. We had the cat, dog, fish tank and a nice big house. Everybody thought that we had the normal Brady Bunch, Cosby family, it really wasn’t like that. Once everybody left and the laughter stopped it was a crazy place to live. I had an abusive father, there were drugs used in the household, it was no different that living in what you would call the hood or the projects, the only difference was that we had Caucasian neighbors.
I attended Pleasant Hill elementary until the 8th grade. At the beginning of my high school experience I attended Hughes high school. In 2006, shortly after I started attending Hughes high, my family lost the home that I had grown up in, due to job loss and foreclosure. We started moving around quite often. Because of the lack of stability my last three years of high school I attended four different schools. Hughes Center, Harmony, Colerain and Aiken. After we lost our house in 2006 my parent’s relationship started deteriorating, that’s when I became homeless the first time. During this time my family was pretty much separated, we tried to reunite during the summer of 2006. Because my parents relationship had begun to deteriorating it just wasn’t the same, so my parents separated for good in November of 2007. They eventually divorced, my father was incarcerated I resided with my mother she had become disabled, she was not receiving any disability. I was a senior in high school and working at Frisch’s restaurant, I eventually became the bread winner of the household. Because my parent’s relationship had deteriorated so much and the divorce was new, I was the person that my mom took all her pain, resentment and anger out on, it was hard. During that time teenagers my age was worrying about girlfriend/boyfriend relationships, college, friends, the latest fashion fad and what was going on in school. I could only focus on my family; it was a lot of stress on my shoulders.
Before all of this I was a happy person, I did the normal things that young adults my age did. I hung out at the mall with friends shopping. I went to view movies, life was good, and life was fun. At that time I thought that the world was a troubled place with troubled people. My only issues at that time were with-in my family dynamics, I excelled at school and other areas of my life. I never cared about having friends; my focus was going to college. High school was torture; I always had felt that I was more mature than my peer group. It seemed to me that everyone was immature and had child like dispositions. I remember when I was ten years old I got held back a grade. The next school year meant that I would be older than my class mates. During the next school year I distinctly remember saying to myself that they (classmates) were so childish. At that time I felt as if I had been taken out of regular class and put in a play pen, it was tough, I was ready to be an adult to go out into the world and change things, making my life better and the world a better place.
My mom excelled in school also, she is smart and she could spell any word off the top of her mind. I would ask her how to spell a really difficult word; she did not have a problem spelling it correctly. I was more of a daddy’s girl; when I was twelve years old my parent’s relationship started to deteriorate, at that time I was used as a ping pong ball between their relationship. It was like if my dad loved me or showed me attention, then my mom did not like me. The same was with him, if my mom loved me or showed me attention, my dad did not like me. When they were getting along well, I was left out. I feel that from the age of twelve to twenty I had to pick a parent, it was hard. When I was sixteen I was working two jobs and also attending school. I bought the food I ate, the clothes I wore, and purchased my own school supplies and anything else that I needed. The only thing that my parents had to do for me was to make sure that I had a roof over my head. During those years working was my recreation, I did not attend parties, or go to clubs, those things did not interest me, and I was more of a productive individual. I did and still do enjoy poetry, and sometimes a very small crowd, that enjoys the same things as me. I enjoyed R&B, nineties music, looking at movies. I was more of a laid back person. When I was five years old I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up, as I got older I wanted to be a singer. I remember, in elementary school there was a talent day, I chose to sing one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite artist. I sang that song with all my heart, only no words, or sound was coming out of my mouth, I had lost my voice; that’s when my singing career was over.
As I have gotten older writing has become my passion. I find it easy to express myself, my feelings, and how I see the world through poetry. I never had a role model as I was growing up. Most of the people that I knew were dysfunctional, so I focused on the image (vision) of me as I saw myself the way I wanted to be and of who I wanted to be in the future. I do not have and has never had issues with alcohol, drugs, mental health and / or employment. There is a perception that everyone who becomes homeless is because of one of them issues, I became homeless because of other issues. I was working full time and also attending high school fulltime when I became homeless. After my parent’s marriage dissolved I shared an apartment with my mom. She had become disabled; I was helping out as much as I could with finances as well as caring for her personal well being. She came home one day started an argument and decided that she did not want me in her apartment anymore. This was a bad time for me; I was ill with the flu and very week. I think that at that time I had had enough, because over the years, I had endured a constant barrage of insults and occasions of being belittled at the hands of my mom. I had figured that I was working and going to school, she was not able to do anything, and what I was doing was never enough, or good enough for her. So when she decided that she wanted me to leave, it was a relief, I was not upset, I was ready to leave. I was eighteen years old at that time.
The first place that I went for help was to be a co-worker. She was an older woman; I looked at her as an aunt figure. She knew of the troubles that I had been having with my mom. She told me that if I ever needed help, I could come to her house. She also told me that I would not have to worry about rent and that she would put food in the house. It seemed too good to be true. It felt like a dream, until I woke up to reality. My first day there I found the water pipes frozen, and that there was no water at all, also the heat did not work. Also the windows were not properly reinforced for the winter weather, there were bed bugs on the couch, and she did not live there. I lost about forty pounds that first month of living there. During the process of being thrown out of the house by her son I found out that the house belonged to him, and that he wanted it back. After that I couch surfed around for a while. At this time my mind set was focused on surviving, I did not have time or the energy to feel sorry for myself. I knew that this situation was temporary and that somehow things would get better. I felt that the time I would spend crying or being depressed, could be better spent trying to get myself out of the situation. I focused on being optimistic and keeping a positive attitude. I would often think that “yes I’m homeless, but that homeless person has it worse than me”. I always knew that my situation could have been much worse than it had been.
During this time the school that I was attending found out about my living situation, and what I was going through. They informed me about the transitional living program through the Lighthouse Youth Services. I went there to get help, but because I was eighteen years old, I was not allowed to stay there. I ended up at the Drop in Center. December 9th 2008, was my first day at the drop in center, it was a Tuesday. I stayed there that Wednesday night, on Thursday night I stayed at a friend’s house. That Friday I received news that I was accepted into the Women’s Program at the Drop in Center. That was the beginning of one of the many blessings that I have received during this process. The day that my mom put me out was a cold rainy day; I had on pajamas, one pair of socks, my work and school uniform and a broken umbrella. I did not have anything else for over a month. I called my mom to see if I could come and retrieve the rest of my belongings, she never answered the telephone. I did not call other family members for assistance because I had felt that I could never count on them when I had been younger, and was being abused, so I felt that they probably would not help me now. I was assisted by friends, maybe not the same one all the time, but I did and could count on them for assistance.
I was in the Women’s Transitional Program at the Drop in Center for eighteen months; I slept there every night, it was home. I also graduated from high school while living there. After eighteen months, I moved into my own place on campus, by now I was a student at the University of Cincinnati, double majoring. My mom became ill again, and needed someone to care for her. I made the decision to move back in her house and care for her. This time was different, I wanted to be there and take care of her. The last time I had lived with her I did not have any choices in the situation, this time I did have choices. It was not long before she put me out again; I moved back on campus and made the decision that as soon as I was financially able that I would move into my own apartment. That’s where I am today, I just paid two month’s rent, and it feels good to have your own. I have had an interesting twenty-one years. I give credit to Faces Without Places, Project Connect, Lighthouse, TLP, the Youth Zone, for them being a support system when I needed support. I think that by me striving for the possible while enduring an impossible situation made the difference in the outcome of my story. It has been an amazing journey. I wanted better and I was determined that I would have better. I did what I had to do to get where I wanted to be in life. Today, I speak to the youth population about my experience being homeless. They do not realize that when you are couch surfing from a friend’s house to another friend’s house, you are considered homeless. This has been a life’s experience, I could not say I would do it over again, but the experience’s, good and bad, has shaped me into the person that I am today.
Day 17- Debbie Poindexter’s Story
Home is Where the Heart is: Deborah Pinndexter’s story
written by: Jim Luken
Six months ago, a very special couple arrived here on the Greyhound from North Carolina. Deborah Poindexter and Johnny Kerns are the same age, 47. They had been childhood sweethearts in grade school and middle school. Each had spent most of his and her life near Winston-Salem. “We came to change our whole lives,” Deborah said. They were all but penniless. They knew no one in the city, and had no place to stay. In a very real sense, they had only one thing going for them. Each other.
Someone who had been on the bus drove them to the West End, because he knew that a number of homeless people were encamped under or near various expressway overpasses. Most recently, John and Deborah had been living with his mother in North Carolina. Here they were immediately homeless. They wound up sleeping on a piece of plexiglass, as they leaned against a concrete bridge support. The weather didn’t welcome them that night. It rained. They spent three nights huddled there, as they began to get the lay of the local land, in terms of how to make it as homeless people.
They found a “tent city” nearby where a dozen people had come together in a loose-fitting community. They found themselves welcomed, in a way, but almost immediately, decided to establish their new lives in a separate space. They found a tree-covered area down a steep hill in one of the highway cloverleafs, and began putting together a camp.
Johnny explained that the reason they had chosen our city was because they had discovered, on the internet, that Cincinnati had some 30 temporary agencies. “Had” is the operative word. When they went looking for work here, they found that most of those agencies had left town or disappeared. Like so many others, they began standing on various street corners with “homeless” signs.
As do many homeless visitors, Deborah secured a mailing address at the Homeless Coalition office on 12th Street. Early on, the couple bussed out to Seymour Avenue to a plasma center. Their plan was to sell plasma weekly so they could afford a small efficiency. Both have been drug free for a long time. But the center refused to buy Deborah’s blood because her address indicated she was homeless.
“She came out of there crying,” Johnny said. “It about broke my heart.”
At some point early on, they both began selling the newspaper you are reading. “Streetvibes is the only thing that makes us feel like we’ve got a job,” Johnny said. “It was a hand up instead of a handout.”
Deborah is also part of the Streetvibes Speakers Bureau. She speaks at schools and Churches (she was a featured speaker at the annual Homeless Coalition dinner in December). “It gives me a chance to help,” she said. She enjoys the role so much that it is her hope to go back to school and eventually get a job working as a full-time advocate for the homeless.
Much of the couple’s time has been spent putting together the camp where they spent the last six months. Johnny did a lot of dumpster diving among the old factories and businesses in the West End. He hauled dozens of pallets over a long distance then used them on the walls, as well as for a bed frame. Plywood and various tarps keep out wind and rain.
For windows, he installed several sheets of plexiglass. “At night there’s enough light from the highway lamps coming through those windows, so we can see OK,” he says. He built a small wood stove in the “main room” using a refrigerator shelf. When they cooked they would slide a window open, but much of the smoke stayed inside. Their clothes have reeked of it all winter. “Wherever I went, people started calling me ‘Smokey,’” Deborah says.
People had dumped all kinds of things off the highway and down the wooded hill behind their camp. They tidied up the area and found lots of usable stuff. The extra pallets were broken up and used for firewood. Deborah laughed as she recalled, “At first we only had an ax and a railroad spike to break up the wood.” Later they found a hatchet.
Johnny used 4” x 4” posts to stabilize the walls. “I cut all them 4” x 4”s with a saw I bought at the dollar store,” Johnny says proudly.
Reflecting on the overall project, Deborah says, “It all fit together like a puzzle.”
And Johnny adds, “I told her the Good Lord’s given us everything we need right here. All we got to do is put it together. That’s how we got our home. It ain’t the best home, but it’s home. After a while, we stopped holding up signs that said we were homeless, because the Good Lord had given us a home.”
They made it through the heart of the winter there, but in December, Deborah went through the long process of using various agencies to help her find an apartment. It took more than two months. In late February, she has now moved into her own Over the Rhine Community Housing apartment on Elm Street. “I love it, but the first night, it was 85 degrees in there. And that was after all those months in the cold. The temperature has come down some now.”
Johnny, along with Allie, the cat they found along the railroad, still lives in the home they built, explaining that if you leave a nice place like theirs, other folks can come and claim it. The camp is special to them.
Although their relationship dates back to when they were kids, the couple has been apart much of the time. Johnny went to jail for five years when he was sixteen (assault). So Deborah dropped out of school and got married. She had three children (now all grown). She proudly shows off a photo of her three grandchildren. The relationship was on-again-off-again for many years, then it went off entirely. Finally, she wrote Johnny a letter. “It’s been ten years,” the letter said. “Are you ready to try again?”
He was ready, and they’ve been a couple for the last two years.” Jeni Jenkins of the Homeless Coalition is trying to help them find a way to get married. There are many practical reasons for them to get married, but those aren’t as important as the main reason. “Because we love each other,” Deborah says.
Even the long, dark winter of homelessness was a good thing, both agree. Deborah spells it out this way:
“I think it’s drawn us closer together, and made us find out how much we loved and cared about each other, and made us more determined to be together.”
In spite of all the hardships, they are both very happy they made the move to Cincinnati. “I can’t wait to show my grandkids the parks and the library,” she says.
Times are still hard. Johnny is a very resourceful guy, but he had a bunch of DWIs in North Carolina which make it all but impossible for him to find a regular full time job. He plans put together a little recycling business in the spring. He will also try the temp agency thing again. Both of them have their GEDs. Hopefully Deborah will find a job as a waitress and a way to continue her education.
Deborah believes that going around and giving talks about the homeless is helping to reduce homelessness. In fact, she can prove it. Now that she has her own apartment, she says, “I am one less homeless person.”