In the lonely hours of a winter night, she sat in a shopping center parking lot. She searched for Christian music on the car radio and prayed.
“Why did this happen to me, Lord. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
In the 1980s, she and her husband had bought a brand new home in Mill Garden South. They raised four children in that home. But by the time the last one moved out on their own, her long-standing marriage was packing up, as well. She moved to West Virginia to be near her brother and his wife, but she missed her children. Her son convinced her to move back to Fredericksburg with his family, until she could find a job to supplement her retirement check and afford a place of her own.
Finding a job as a sixty-something in a down economy proved more than challenging. And after only four months, she decided she had outworn her welcome.
She went to stay with one of her daughters, who lived in a mobile home park in town. But after only a few weeks, the two were at odds over a restriction in the lease that prohibited visitors from staying more than 14 days.
“I didn’t understand the ‘you can’t stay here because I have a landlord.” she said. “It hurt. I wondered what kind of kids had I raised, and I blanked out everything else.”
She ended the argument by secretly leaving one night in a the middle of a snowstorm.
“I headed down the road a ways and thought to myself, ‘where am I going to go now?”
She checked into a motel that night, and that was the beginning of a long two and a half years of displacement and eventual homelessness.
Her savings lasted a little while. She switched motels every few days to make sure she always got the best rate. People suggested she try food pantries, but she was so used to having money that she couldn’t imagine they would actually give her anything. A time or two she visited the area’s homeless shelter, in hopes of saving money, but decided against it–too many other people needing the beds more than she did.
Instead, she took to her vehicle, initially driving as far as the Manassas Visitor’s Center to ensure she was safe at night. Eventually, she learned to stay locally in the Wal-mart parking lot. If she moved her vehicle frequently enough, no one would detect that she was actually living there.
Her car was cramped. She didn’t sleep much, and sometimes she went as long as six days without a shower. She spent a lot of time thinking and praying about getting through the next hour.
“It seems like a bad dream in some ways,” she said. “It does something to you when you are sitting in your car for hours watching the traffic go by.”
She found herself suddenly thankful for things she had barely taken note of in previous years. She had a blanket, a pillow and a car to keep her out of the weather.
“Some people don’t even have this much,” she thought, “And somehow that gave me the feeling that everything would be okay.”
She found her way to Micah’s respite program after a brief hospital stay, and the the wrap around services available there set her on a track to participate in a job training program for the elderly. She was accepted into a subsidized apartment complex for older adults and is now going on a year and half of stable housing.
She lost a lot in her years on the street. Belongings were stolen from her. Other items were sold to earn money for another week in a motel. But when it came time to move into her apartment, material things were the least of her concern.
“I don’t feel an attachment to things anymore,” she says. “In fact, I feel better having less.”
Sure, her house has the basics–a bed, a sofa and a kitchen table. But more important to her today are the relationships that have been rekindled there.
Her house is now a place that her son brings her granddaughter to visit twice a week. It is the location for one-on-one time with her youngest child, who she feels lost years of attention in the shadows of his siblings. It is the save haven where she can return after Thanksgiving dinner with her family and know that, even in her darkest hours on the street, she was never left with nothing at all.