display | more...

Due to the spike in Atlanta homeless murders (one woman had her throat cut by her drug dealer, another woman in the same camp was shot five times point blank in her tent), I want to touch on exploitation and partner abuse.

The number one way for women to extend their life expectancy is to marry well, as homicides typically happen during narcotics disputes, outside bars after closing hours, or, especially for women, at the hands of their domestic partner, so the following client profile is one of the few where a woman gets off the street despite a mile of Bad Boyfriend decisions that block her path to housing.

Tonya slept in a church parking lot, ten feet from the soup kitchen entrance and a hundred feet from her mother's bedroom window at the adjacent senior high-rise. Depressed, paralyzed on side of her body, with an eighth grade education and memory lapses that meant she was always losing her ID, she was autonomous enough to qualify for supportive housing save for one obstacle: the Con Artist Boyfriend (or CAB as we'll heretofore refer to him).

(I should note that Con Artists come in all stripes, from the motherly old woman who bathes her blind friend and then spends his panhandle earnings on crack, to the younger brother type who cares for a disabled vet and then empties his savings).

CAB's biggest issue was his unwillingness to take bipolar meds. Homeless often choose not to take antidepressants/antipsychotics because it makes them drowsy, a huge trade-off when you're always at risk of being robbed or attacked, or because they dread the initial month where highs and lows are muted to a zombified flatline. And to be fair, CAB was a lovely person in his manic phases, charming and helpful and full of the milk of human kindness, wholly repentant of all the times he dumped Tonya out of her wheelchair, beat her mother, punched someone in Bible study, or pushed a social worker to the ground so hard she needed x-rays.

None of that mattered. Tonya was in love, the way a third grader moons over her favorite Jonas Brother, and waved away CAB's indiscretions in exchange for a partner who, to his credit, was extremely intelligent, resourceful, scared off predators, and took care of her physical needs.  On his good days, CAB would share a mattress with her in the church parking lot and carefully dress her, pulling socks and pants off her legs behind a truck to maintain privacy, and then wheel her to a bathroom, for which she shared her disability check and snuck him into her mother's apartment during the winter months. 

When the doctors first introduced us Tonya had lost everything, no documentation, no way to access her money, just a wheelchair in a wet parking lot, so we found her a bed at City Charity #5 (no ID needed! hot meals prepared! a free clinic on site!).  She twisted her head up toward CAB's face, waiting for his reaction, but even though he encouraged her to spend the night in the women's shelter, she refused because they couldn't be together.

(side note: technically she qualified for Domestic Violence shelters as well, but that would mean her admitting to victim status and entering the black hole of DV case management, where clients can no longer be located on a physical map.)

Having her mother live a literal stone's throw from the office helped, so after sneaking in behind a pest control team, I spoke with Tonya's mom about accessing social security benefits and, after pushing the necessary papers through, had her new debit card mailed. This proved extremely useful when Tonya was hospitalized on Grady's 13th floor (aka the locked psych ward) and I was able to track down a friend of a friend's tiny office to discuss a discharge plan. The social worker pulled up a huge spreadsheet of housing options, most of them small and informal, and handed me the numbers of three little old ladies (or LOLs, in tribute to the LOLNADs of "House of God") who let rooms to poor folks on SSI.

The most promising LOL was a registered nurse with her own van who, after running a preliminary background check, came to pick up Tonya the next day. Everything lined up. The room was within Tonya's meager budget, included medical home visits, and CAB had spent all morning verbally abusing her since he'd been banned from yet another soup kitchen. We loaded her in the van and breathed a sigh of relief...for about two hours, when she suddenly returned in tears.  Tonya didn't want to be alone.

The thought of making any woman share an apartment with CAB felt irresponsible, sealing them both in a cheap room where no eyewitnesses could de-escalate his towerings rages. All we could do was wait for her to change her mind.  She turned down the next two rentals we found and eventually disappeared for the winter when CAB was banned from the church property for fighting.

Enter covid-19.  An angel donor paid for 240 hotel rooms for ninety days, and a social worker emailed me asking if I had Tonya's ID for a housing referral. I warned her about CAB's behavior but didn't stop them from seeking respite, happy a new case worker had taken them, relieved in the same way an exhausted parent turns to their spouse at 3am and says "your turn".


Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.