Going from bad to worse. Frying pan to the fire. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. None of those adages express the level of dire anguish Melissa and her daughter face.
A 3-year string of horrible events culminated in this pert mother and her adorable 7-year-old daughter landing in the Kansas version of prison: a town of less than 400, with nary a grocery store, much less any sign of life, no transportation and no support network.
Melissa, who's worked in the home healthcare field for a number of years, tossed out a desperate Craig’s List plea a few weeks ago to escape from the apartment she platonically shared with “Max,” who had “compassionately" offered to share the 2-bedroom apartment he was about to rent with Melissa who had just escaped another untenable living situation.
“Sex,” she told me in the interview she agreed to do for my HEAR US doubled up project, Worn Out Welcome Mat--KS. “What is it with men who think of nothing else, even after I clearly spelled out that I was not interested in it…at all?”
A divorce tossed her over the edge 3 years ago. The job she had fell apart. When she faced eviction she remorsefully turned to the father of her older daughter to take her, knowing he could provide a decent living situation for the few months Melissa anticipated it would take to get back on her feet.
She attentively and creatively strove to patch her life together, protectively tending to her youngest daughter’s needs. The school McKinney-Vento homeless liaison accommodated their high mobility. They bounced from being doubled up in friend’s apartments to motels to the highly-restrictive, religious shelter back to friends.
Melissa’s housing choices in this military town were nil, subsidized housing not available, so she generated options intended to give them a place until she could save money to get their own place. Jobs paying a living wage, even for this hard-working woman who put herself through college? Forget it. So she turned to the underground employment and housing network to compensate for the basic needs’ drought in Kansas (and other states).
Even this didn’t work. Seemingly “safe” arrangements turned hellish. Moving from one bad situation led to even worse. A constant state of panic and heightened parent-protective alertness were matched by the absolute lack of alternatives in the Sunflower State.
Social services and the hypothetical safety net have been all but eliminated by the tax-slashing Governor Sam Brownback and his Republican conspirators. So few shelters exist in Kansas—and they have months’ long waiting lists—that families like Melissa’s desperately do what they have to do.
When the last straw came in the form of sexual and physical confrontation that needed police intervention (again), Melissa turned to a town I’ll call “Hell.” The man who agreed to take in these two vulnerable nomads assured her this was to help him with home health care, not sex.
Three days later, Melissa told me he made explicitly clear that he had needs and expectations.
I suggested she contact the nearest shelter (and even offered to give them a ride). I explained the “trick” of qualifying for admission—to make sure the intake counselor knew she and her daughter are in danger (they are), that their circumstances are dire and housing is dependent on her providing for her “host’s” sexual needs. HUD has a high bar when it comes to determining eligibility for their vaunted homeless shelter beds.
Melissa and her daughter might not be “homeless enough” to qualify for help. If that’s the case, she is absolutely out of options.
The public library in this hellish town is only open a couple hours a day, three days a week, with one computer. That is, if she will be able to leave the house of this invalid-predator. So searching on Craig’s List won’t even be an option.