When asked why I am passionate about what I do, I get nervous. I find myself timidly replying, “I was homeless myself.” I don’t speak of my story often, because it is painful. My spiral into homelessness felt as if all I had known was torn away from me. For one year in San Diego, I lived out of my car, on friends’ couches and eventually ended my cycle of homelessness by moving in with my parents.
I had a job at a Christian university and a part-time youth pastor gig at a local church. I made enough to cover living expenses in San Diego with a little to spare. In an overzealous effort to pay off student loans shortly after moving, I began modeling for print and television ads. It was great money and I could do it in my spare time.
It was Sept. 29, 2008. The week the market crashed and like the market my life tanked. Life was good until the day the photo that ended my world as I knew it surfaced. I was proud of my work and never showed any flesh. The photo that was circulated was sexy, but not inappropriate. It was forwarded by family and a former pastor I worked for. Too racy for my job; I got let go at the university. That same week the church I worked for closed its little campus.
A former seminary friend of mine called to check on me. I was devastated because I was unable to get a job. I cried to her saying I felt hurt and betrayed by everyone around me. Two days later a call came from a friend warning me that a schoolmate had called everyone she knew, falsely claiming I had been fired for nude photos. Devastated, I made up my mind that day to never ask anyone for help.
I struggled on my own. I worked two part-time jobs, unable to make it on my own. I got kicked out of the house I had lived in for four years. My landlady told me, “It’s not my fault you are too lazy and stupid to get a job and pay bills.”
Depression set in and I went to the only place that was open to me: the bars. I went out each night and drank. Being raised conservatively I was conflicted about the excessive drinking, but it was the only escape from my life in my car. I faked being too drunk to drive so I could sleep over with friends, both male and female, and benefit from a warm bed and shower. I never went for social-service assistance because I wasn’t “one of those people.”
I took food I didn’t want from feeding groups. I dealt with harassment from police because they did warrant sweeps of homeless sitting along the sidewalks. I had to panhandle to pay for parking. I depended on the kindness of friends to let me stay with them for extended periods of time.
Humiliated and feeling as if I had nothing to live for, I sat one day and revved my car as I looked over a cliff. Too painful to go on I was ready to die. Then a funny thing happened. My radio turned on and played a song, “How He Loves,” by the David Crowder Band. I sobbed and felt silly. In that moment I realized I needed to pull it together and fight for those who are voiceless on the streets.
The next year I moved in with my parents, got a job at the San Diego Rescue Mission and later created Caridad. I am thankful for that year of struggle and agonizing pain. The lesson that I got and I hope you, the reader, get is homelessness could happen to anyone. If it could happen to me it could happen to you.
Merideth Spriggs is the founder and chief kindness officer of Caridad, a homeless-services provider based in downtown Las Vegas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org