UNDETECTABLE HOMELESS

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A Weekly Cyberlog

It occurs to me that in last week’s Cyberlog, I forgot one story.  It refers to an important
misconception by women who are not aware of their eligibility for Social Security benefits.
I carry a dog-eared Social Security Handbook and the Survivors’ Benefits supplement
with me and am frequently searching through the Handbook for benefits that will provide
a monthly stipend that has been overlooked by many homeless women.  There are
women who have been married, divorced, and when their ex-husband dies, expect
nothing from Social Security since they are not only divorced, but the man had remarried.
I wish all women knew that if they had been married for ten years–and I mean from
marriage date to divorce date–they are eligible for survivor’s benefits.  The operative
factor here is that the woman may have only lived with the man for six years, but if the
DIVORCE was not finalized until the day after ten years from the marriage, the woman
and any other ex-wives plus any surviving wife are all entitled to survivor benefits.  There
are also benefits available from other sources, such as miners’ and railroaders’ funds.
Fern’s story was left out of last week’s Cyberlog:
 


“I lost my job and 401(k) when [    ] in [   ] went bust.  The workers did, but not the company
higher-ups.  Now we find out that they had already signed on for special retirement pack-
ages and heaven knows what else so that they would remain millionaires....We learned all
of this on TV, and you know, they aren’t gonna be punished at all!  They screwed-up the
books and paid themselves huge bonuses....and all we got–the employees, you know–was
a notice that we could be retrained for other jobs.  Like what?  I’m gonna get a job at 55
working for a doctor or in a chicken packing plant?  Who is kidding who?  What does
retraining mean...and how does that insure that I’ll get a job which pays more than minimum
wage–which certainly won’t pay for a room, utilities, car insurance, gas, food, and whatever
the basics are....I spent my summer vacations working for a white water rafting and
mountain biking company and figured the only thing I could find in a job was a company that
would hire me full-time....I even considered working in a woolen mill since my ma did when I
was a kid and I learned a bit about it, but Maine is closing its last mill...and now those
people are out of a specialized job....I moved here and couldn’t get the full-time job, but I’m
on my way for a summer job, and I’ll live out of my RV....I’ve got this really new addition for
a mountain bike, and I’ve already put it on mine.  I’m gonna try to get it patented, but that’s so
expensive that I don’t know...maybe I can sell it to the company and just get a flat fee.  I don’t
know why no one else thought of this, but maybe my situation made me think more clearly
about what I need to do to make money.  And this is something that everyone who bikes will
want....Right now, I’ll find all kinds of places like this to park when the leaves are full and the
trees hide me...If only my ex had stuck around.  He wasn’t an honest man or even good to me,
but if he had died while we were still married, I’d be getting a healthy Social Security check.
But he died at 62 and had himself a young, prettier wife, and she really cleaned up. I know s
he married him for his money, and she figured he’d pass on way before her and she was
willing to put up with his guff....We were married for about eight years, and he just took off for
a job a few states away and wrote and told me he wanted a divorce....I didn’t really have a
choice, did I?  He got everything since he took it with him promising to send for me as soon
as he got a rental....I didn’t want to leave my job, fool that I was, since I was getting good pay
and until he came through with the rental, I just couldn’t rely on him....”
(Fern, age 55, 2003 in Maine)

I met Fern when I got lost heading toward NH in the lakes region, and ended up going up a
long narrow road where I thought I’d find a (homeless) woman who works in a summer camp
for kids.  Fern was coming toward me and there wasn’t room for us to pass, so we got out and
negotiated who should back up.  The bottom line is that she backed up into a dirt road that
only went for a few yards and ended in trees.  I had a hunch I should “chat,” so I stopped and
went over to her   She asked me why I was going up to the camp and I told her (minus the name
of the women I was seeking), and she had no hesitation in telling me her story.  I asked
questions....What I wish to point out here is that she IS entitled to Social Security benefits, and
will be receiving a monthly check which will allow her to rent an apartment.  She may have only
lived with her husband for eight years, but he didn’t file for a divorce until three years later when
he remarried!  Fern will also be able to eventually receive Medicare because of this “windfall”
and she never would have been able to do so otherwise....If there is a web site which explains
all of these entitlements for women, I’ve never found it!  I expect that if one knows what to look
for, one can find such information, but if a woman hasn’t a clue as to possible benefits, how
does she know where to look?  You have to ask Google a question, and if you don’t even know
what the question is, Google can’t read minds....

This week I want to continue to discuss the innovative entrepreneurship of undetectable home-
less women.  They do not just sit all day in their vehicles.  The healthy and younger women do
find part-time jobs and some do business right from their vans/RVs/SUVs/station wagons/
trucks.  Computers, of course, are the progress that has made this possible.  No matter where
one is, there are always companies which need piecemeal translations, weekend typists, or
cheap labor.
 

I met Phyllis in 2000 when we kept bumping into each other at an antiques bonanza: several
fields full of tables and tents with all sorts of collectibles and antiques.  She was just beginning
her new “business” by traveling the back roads and buying very low and building up a small
collection of children’s old tin tea sets.  They are valuable when there are depictions of young
children playing...and in good condition.  I’m an  “old-timer,” so I know she had a good idea
which is a year-round business.  There isn’t a state without indoor and outdoor collectibles/
antiques events.   This year, I drove to the town site and hoped to run into her again.  I had just
missed the one-day sales event, but I thought she might still be either parked and waiting for
the next event or buying in the general area.  Her distinctive truck isn’t difficult to find!  I have
taken artistic license with the color and lettering on the truck for her protection as “anonymous.”
 


“I’m sort of OK this year.  The truck is a godsend, and I just pray that it stays healthy.  I lived in it
all winter by going south to Florida, and did some fleas there....You’ll notice that I’ve added
some other smalls to my collection, and it’s great to have this much space to keep my stuff in....
I’ve managed to get some cheap furniture so that it almost looks like a living room, doesn’t it?....
I never thought I’d be doing anything like this when I had a really good career going as an LPN.
God; I was such a patsy.  I should have been prepared for something going wrong when I got
so bud with another woman in the hospital we both worked from.  She just wasn’t settled enough;
she’d had too many short relationships, and couldn’t put anyone first–or even second–to her
own needs.  Selfish....When she decided I wasn’t right for her, she told all kinds of lies about me
and it really led to my being fired....She is just filled with doubts and hatred, probably for
herself....Some other woman is now involved with her, and I really feel for her.  It isn’t my place to
say anything to her.  She wouldn’t have believed me anyway....I tried to get another job in my
field, but with no references, I didn’t have a chance, especially when I had to list where I had
worked last....I’m sure she lied about my work....I’m happy with this kind of life, but I do miss the
luxury of a home.  I was renting a nice place, but now I have to live out of the truck.  Maybe in a
couple of good years, I’ll be able to move up in merchandise and make more money, and then
I might be able to get back into an apartment.  But, then why?  I need the truck to keep traveling
to do the circuit, so I’ll never really be “at home” anywhere except in the truck....I’m not sure I
really want to be stuck in one place now.  I like the traveling and meeting new people all the
time....” (Phyllis, age 53, 2003 in Massachusetts)

Cheryl is a beachcomber.  That happens to be one of my hobbies whenever I get to a cove with
a surf.  I found her when I was renting a place right on the ocean in 2001.  She was parked on a
property nearby, and she was just about the only person I actually saw on the wonderful little
beach where I spent a lot of time.
 

“I’ve summered in Maine every year for ten, and when Hal died, I just drove to Maine to stay
awhile with a good friend who had always offered a place to live.  It was a joke when she said it....
Clare died six months before I arrived, and I was shocked.  She was young and healthy the last
time I saw her....The house is for sale at a phenomenal price [by her greedy son] and he’d rather
board it up and wait for an out-of-state buyer who has the money.  He won’t even rent it since he
doesn’t live in the state and would have to find a reliable caretaker....I looked around the place,
and it looked like no one had been there in ages.  Even if it was just six months ago....I knew
where Clare kept a spare key...in a bird bath sculpture...and I went in through the garage door–
the back one which is easily opened with a bang on the latch....I have been living there and so
far no one has even approached the house.  I expected a real estate agent to at least show the
house, but there has only been one nibble and they didn’t even come into the house.  So, I
come and go at night just in case someone sees the lights which I don’t use anyway, and since
there is electric on, I can use the stove, refrigerator, and heater when I need to....There’s a lot
of canned goods and stuff still in the freezer, so I don’t even worry about food....There is a TV,
so I can watch the tube after I close the drapes, and a library full of books....I come down to this
beach every morning when the fog is just lifting and when the tide is out and I’ve found all kinds
of things to sell that get washed up, especially after a storm....One day I found a really icky slimy
little leather bag tangled in seaweed, and inside was a very nice bracelet and necklace set.  I
thought it was just costume jewelry, but I washed it off and took it into town to a jeweler.  He
said it was worth a lot of money.  I haven’t sold it yet.  I’ll wait until I really must have the cash....I
collect all kinds of things that make good jewelry parts washed up on the beach, and I’ve made
a few nice pieces that I’ve put on consignment in a tourist shop.  They sold right away....I’m
learning to use Clare’s tools.  She had so many, and some are used for making either jewelry
or small objects.  I’ve mounted little shells on driftwood, and I think I’ve found a talent.  They are
really lovely, and when I get a few done, I’ll approach the galleries and see if I have a chance
for a show....I really need to find a better place to park, though.  The nearest neighbors go by
occasionally and would wonder what is going on....I may have to chop my way into a wild high
weed patch and then use some kind of covering when I’m parked.  I’ll get my Social Security
check next year, I guess, and then I’ll decide what to do.  Until then, I’m a beachcombing artist...
.(Cheryl, age 54, 2001 in Maine)

I’m going to investigate that property this summer, and I’ll see whether Cheryl has moved on
or is still there, perfecting her talent!

CLICK ON NEXT WEEK FOR HOMELESS LADIES WHO
FIND UNUSUAL PLACES IN WHICH TO “DWELL....”


Click to next Cyberlog

 

© 2003 Marjorie Bard.  All Rights Reserved.
This can in no way be copied or distributed.