A post apocalyptic novel or film might have used this plot. The world has been ravaged by a pandemic, killing millions of people and wrecking economies. The most vulnerable lose everything. Into this world, a woman and her dog seek shelter in an open space, finding others in similar circumstances sheltered there as well. One of the inhabitants, someone she has seen before, begins to behave more erratically than usual, and, though her dog will defend her, she fears for her life. Though it’s late and dark, she seeks aid from a lighted house nearby. She asks to use a phone–she lost hers long ago–and begs the police to come and defend her.
This is a true story. This happened. A homeless woman and her dog rang our doorbell, desperate and terrified. The police told her they couldn’t run the guy out of the park, and she had best find somewhere else to sleep. We said she was welcome to spend the night on our front porch. The cops discretely warned my husband and me to be careful about letting her stay too long. Because of issues with squatters rights, she might be hard to get rid of. We considered inviting her into the guest room, but we didn’t think the cats would approve of the dog, and we knew she wouldn’t leave the dog all by himself. The cops warned her she would have to move on in the morning.
She had a can of dog food in her backpack, and not a lot else. We fed her leftover pork fried rice which she also shared with her dog. We gave her a thick comforter and a pillow that the dog quickly claimed.
I didn’t sleep much that night. In the morning I researched how to make dog food. When she started stirring, I made her toast, coffee and a hard boiled egg, and added two little oranges. My first attempt at homemade dog food was a resounding success. While she and the dog ate, I made two sandwiches (BLT and PB and J, my favorites) added carrot sticks and an apple to the paper bag. I scrounged up $40. We don’t keep much cash in the house. I wish it had been more. I packed the rest of the dog food in a container, and refilled her water jug. She was tearfully grateful when she left.
I’ve agonized for days over her. She said she’d be getting a check the first of the month. No matter how big that check is, I doubt it will be enough to get her an apartment and medical attention for her aging dog or enough groceries to last a month.
Homelessness is its own epidemic, and it will only grow. Moratoriums on evictions have ended, and many people are still without work or resources. And how do you find work without a phone, an address, decent clothes to work in?Kansas City has begun to try to address these issues. But the books Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich, and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond make it painfully clear that poor people are profitable for those who prey on and use them, and getting out the hole of poverty and homelessness is a massive struggle.
The woman and her dog are heavy on my mind. This could be any of us. So many of us are one paycheck away from where this woman and dog found themselves. The time to act is now.
Image: A home. By Jonathan Hutchins