Three lessons I learned from being homeless


A few years ago, Nancy Davis started hanging around the {grow} community and became one of its most popular contributors to the comment section. I had a chance to meet her in New Jersey and strongly encouraged her to begin blogging. She did — and her openness and authentic helpfulness caught on with a lot of people. Soon, she was contributing to many leading marketing blogs.

But throughout 2011, her many friends slowly but surely saw her life unravel before their eyes through her blog and dramatic Facebook posts.  Within a few short months, the blogging had ended and Nancy was focused on just finding a place to sleep at night.   

Nancy Davis has lived through a nightmare many of us will never experience. Here is her story, here are her lessons. And this is the start of her comeback as a blogger.

By Nancy Davis, {grow} Community Member

In August of 2011, I lost my good paying job. I had some emergency funds saved but not enough. I fell behind in my rent, and as a result was evicted from my apartment. Life declined steadily as I could not find work or a safety net.

2012 was without a doubt, the hardest year of my life. In this past year, I lost my home and almost all of my possessions. The one thing I did not lose was hope. While this year was a tough taskmaster in many ways, I have learned a few great lessons that I would like to share with you.

Life Can Change in an Instant 

Life changed forever the moment I no longer had a permanent address.

Instead of planning and thinking and blogging, my life became a matter of finding work and doing whatever job was in front of me at the moment.  I had to give up any notion of working in marketing and became a house painter, a construction worker, and I even weeded flower beds in the hot sun for a whole 20 bucks. I fixed a fence in blistering heat with no water and no shade for 40 bucks. Some days I made no money at all. I simply worked for food.

There has been no offer of work that has been turned down. Jobs I would have looked down my nose at a few years ago I do today without hesitation. I have had to learn a whole new set of skills to do all of these jobs. I even got over my fear of heights and ladders when I was painting houses.

Today, I am working in an auto body shop doing prep work. I have learned that the equation for survival  is surprisingly simple – if we don’t work, we don’t eat.

Another lesson I learned was flexibility. When you are continually behind in your rent, you learn how to pack your stuff quickly and go. I wound up living in a homeless shelter in my home state, hoping that I could get some assistance finding permanent housing.

What I found was that I had to adapt to losing my routine. When I had my own place, I was used to getting up at a certain time, having my coffee, writing my blog, whatever I wanted to do. Now, I was being awakened every day at 6 a.m. I had to get out of bed, pack my stuff up, wash my face and go off to whatever work I could find.

If I was not back in the shelter by 5 p.m., I did not get dinner that day. Then I had to put my name on a list requesting to take a shower. The person I was a few years ago could not have handled all of this change. I’m a different person now.

You Never Know Where Help Will Come From

Before I was served with eviction papers, I  was blogging every day and had developed strong relationships on the social web. I told everyone in my life what was going on and I was amazed at the response. One of my friends wrote two blog posts about my situation, another re-tweeted my original post anywhere possible, asking others to come help.

That was the tip of the iceberg.

In the early days of December 2011, I was still trying to hang on to my apartment. I was two months behind in my rent. I was looking for work anywhere and everywhere. On a cold and blustery Wednesday morning, I received a text message from one of my social media friends. She told me there would be a UPS envelope at my door with a substantial check inside. I walked the few blocks to my home, and there it was. I opened the brown envelope to not only find the check, but to also read the neatly typed letter with the names of the many  people who donated money to help me. Three of these people I never even met before. I only knew them from my blog and from Twitter.

I held the check and the letter and began to slowly cry. I cried because I never felt so grateful. It was one of the greatest feelings to know that I had friends who would do this for me.

A week or so after that, I was contacted by another social media friend who wanted to know what my son wanted for Christmas. Obviously I could not afford presents.  She was kind enough to send him a Yankee jersey and I could tell him it came from Santa. We lived in a small town, so the local Catholic Church heard of our plight and they also donated gifts. Acquaintances I had not talked to since high school brought over gifts not just for my son, but for me as well.

If You Don’t Laugh, You Will Cry

There have been lots of tears over the last year.  There were days that I would just sit and cry over all the things I lost, and the relationships that were permanently changed. Some folks drifted away, while others simply turned their backs since they did not approve of some of the choices I made.

I had a decision to make, I could sit and cry, or I could try to find the silver lining and laugh at the situation.  There certainly were many days where I did not feel like laughing.  In some of our darker days, we would joke about having enough money to get a three dollar package of pork fat from the local bodega. Then, we would eat and laugh about some silly thing that we saw or that someone said.

There was a day in May while painting a house, that we all broke out into song randomly. We began singing “Top Of the World” by The Carpenters. That was when we knew we needed to pack it up and go home. We laughed about that the whole rest of the day. There were many other strange and funny incidents throughout the year. Those moments of pure laughter kept me going when I would get stuck in self-pity.

As I enter 2013, my biggest goal is to re-gain my confidence and stop telling myself “I can’t” because I can!

I am looking forward to better things in this year and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to begin to write again and share with all of you my biggest lessons of this year.

Nancy Davis is an auto body worker by day and a writer by night. She resides in New York. Nancy’s biggest goal is to help people who have no hope, and to bring awareness to the homeless situation here in the United States. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @nancyd68

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