Born in St. Louis currently living in Flint, Michigan
Dec. 16, 2012
“I was living champagne dreams with beer money.”
It’s hard to find stories of people living on the streets of Flint when it’s raining in the middle of December. So instead of driving around trying to find someone who would talk to us, we decided to go right to the source of where we knew people would be — the Flint warming center, which opens up every year on Dec. 1. We pulled into the parking lot of the large, warn-down, brick building and walked to the door. To our left was a man rolling a cigarette on a windowsill in the rain. We walked down the stairs into the basement and entered a large room filled with tables, a large TV, two security guards and a handful of people watching the football game. We explained to the security guards what we were doing there and to our surprise they were eager to read the finished story. Looking around the room we approached the only woman there. When we introduced ourselves and asked if we could talk to her she immediately agreed. We sat down out of the way of others so we could hear her better. Before we could even finish telling her about our project she jumped right into her story.
Her story, however, was unique for us. For the first time, we walked away from an interview with many unanswered questions. It was probably a good lesson for us to know that not everyone we walk up to will spill their entire life’s story to complete strangers. But we learned an even greater lesson than that. With Angela, she was so thankful that we simply asked to hear what she had to say. One small question made a big impact. “This is the first time I’ve really had a conversation with somebody just walking up to me,” Angela told us.
Angela was very intense as she spoke but was eager to share and have a conversation with us. Here is her story:
Angela feels strongly about able people working and earning a living. She started working when she was 19 years old and has a strong desire to begin taking care of herself again.
Angela doesn’t like to depend on others to live her life. She wants to work, but she’s hit a few roadblocks over the years.
She was born in St. Louis, but her mother moved to Flint with her and her brother because of an abusive husband. Angela’s mother started working in the cafeteria at General Motors until she began working on the line.
Angela first became homeless in Detroit in the 90’s. She was hooked on drugs but shame from her problem caused her to reject any help from her family. She knew they had their own problems and didn’t want to be a burden.
“They didn’t need an extra (burden). I’m not their child. I didn’t grow up with them,” Angela said. “To make a long story short I didn’t have anyone.”
She was still working but had no place of her own to lay her head. She didn’t have anyone stable to depend on. But when asked how it was to be homeless, she didn’t have a negative response.
She still got her hair and nails done by family who worked a salon, she had nice clothes, but technically she was homeless. “I was living champagne dreams with beer money,” Angela explained.
“I didn’t look homeless when I was homeless,” Angela said. “I just didn’t have somewhere to lay my head where I paid rent or a mortgage.”
Angela was homeless for about a year or so before the drugs became too much and she began getting care at a mental health institution. She was there for over an decade trying to get her medications under control, while also dealing with depression.
That was something that has made a huge impact on her life. It was hard for her to take the medications because she didn’t like how she felt on them.
“If I didn’t take the medication, they wouldn’t let me out. If I do take the medication I sign something that says the medication isn’t responsible (for health problems),” Angela said.
Angela now lives in a group home in Flint, where they help her with her medication. But she wants a lot more out of her life.
She wants to work or volunteer her time, anything to help her get back on her feet. In her eyes, anyone who can work should. Handouts are not something she wants to live off of.
“Just sitting around getting free food, getting free this, I’m sick of the free shit,” Angela said. “I used to work. I’m better off now than when I was working. That’s pitiful.”
For Angela Flint is a good place to be if you’re in need or could use a helping hand. There are a lot of resources for those who need them, she said.
“Flint is very excellent for people who are homeless, because they have shelters and everything,” Angela said. “Being homeless, you’re not homeless here. One way or another someone’s going to help.”
But for Angela, she wants more than handouts. She wants to earn it.
Her future goals
After looking back at what she’s been through, Angela now has a goal for her life. And she’s hoping Flint is the place she can accomplish that.
Her mother raised her to get an education and to get a job. That is how she was taught to survive, she said.
She wants to go back to school and possibly pursue a career in health care. For now her next step is to figure out how to get there.
She’s working on finding a permanent home and learning bus routes to get her where she needs to be on her own. It felt good to have a job and be responsible for things in life because the stress motivated her to work harder, Angela said. She understands that life isn’t perfect, but that’s OK.
“I’m ready to move on,” Angela said. “I’m looking forward to going back (to work).”
Angela asked if we needed more but was ready to get in line for lunch at the warming center. She thanked us for listening to her story and said it was a blessing that we were there. Meeting Angela showed us that there is always more to the story than what meets the eye. You just have to be willing to ask.
This is the third story in a series we are calling Flint Stories Project. Please continue to check back for more stories. Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every one has a story. We are listening.