Debbie W.

Debbie W. – Voices from Sr Jose Women’s Center

“Everybody’s story is different, not all of us are here because we are lazy or we are a drug addict or have severe mental illness or anything like that. Sometimes it is just the choices that other people make that has an impact on you, that puts you on the street, like my husband deciding to take off with all the money.”

Debbie W. is smart, personable, and has no permanent home. She attended school in Sierra Vista, and worked as a cashier, in customer relations, and as a housewife. Debbie loves to read; it is her escape, something she learned as a child. Her last permanent home was a small studio in Tucson but when she lost her job the savings she had put aside for a car was soon gone. She found herself evicted in August 2015. Previously, in 2012, her husband of eleven years had left her taking all but $250. Debbie does not know where he lives and without an address she cannot pursue her legal right to his pension.

Debbie first came to Sister Jose’s Women Center (SJWC) back in August after living on the street for one week. Her feet, she says, were “swollen like an elephant” and she was in shock from being evicted. She knew nothing about living on the street and had only the clothes she was wearing. A friend took her to SJWC; there the volunteers offered her food, shoes and clothing, and told her to put her legs up so the swelling would go down. She was able to rest and find comfort from other women who faced the same challenges. She says,“The volunteers here are so nice. They treat us like people, not trash.” For Debbie, SJWC is a safe place where she can be out of the weather, get food and medicine, and not be harassed or victimized by men who see homeless women as easy prey. She told me that on the street the saying is to “stay visible” so you don’t just disappear or become a victim.

Debbie would like to see SJWC be able to offer computer access and storage for personal belongings. With a computer she could access resources and look for a job. Because Debbie does not suffer from mental illness, alcoholism, or drug addiction she finds that she does not qualify for most social services. Secure storage of the bedding she uses for sleeping on the street and the personal belongings she pushes in an overloaded grocery cart would allow her to move freely during the day to find work.

What would change her life? A decent job, she says, but she lacks career skills and her arthritis prevents her from working manual labor. She dreams of a place with a bathroom and a kitchen, maybe even owning her own home again.

Debbie’s parting message was:
“Everybody’s story is different, not all of us are here because we are lazy or we are a drug addict or have severe mental illness or anything like that. Sometimes it is just the choices that other people make that has an impact on you, that puts you on the street, like my husband deciding to take off with all the money.”

She added that “Often people look away when they see her or that they just don’t know how to help.” Debbie says a job would help but just saying hello sends the message that she is not invisible.

Penny Buckley – December 2015
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