It’s okay to ask for help

Lisa and Rusty

Editor’s note: We are honored to present Lisa Pierce’s account of her journey through homelessness, especially the moving story of her time spent living at a roadside rest area.)

In December, 2007, my son Brycen and I moved into a beautiful 4-bedroom home with a fenced yard in the Renton Highlands. We lived in a quiet neighborhood next door to our church. We had two roommates to offset the rent and utilities.

I was working and going about my life, just maintaining. Then, in 2009, I lost my job as a manager due to my Multiple Sclerosis.

To this day, I still don’t know how I was blessed to be introduced to Solid Ground. The first person I encountered was Tunde Akunyun. (Tunde’s work in Solid Ground’s Stable Families program focuses on helping at-risk families maintain their housing stability.)

Tunde came into my world and made a difference. She didn’t just help keep the roof over our heads and the lights on. She helped me get my social security disability benefits. She taught me how to budget my money. And when I was diagnosed with diabetes, she was responsible for me being able to give myself an insulin injection.

The biggest thing she did for me was let me know it’s okay to ask for help.

In May of last year, I lost the home. The owner passed away and it was sold out from under us. I didn’t have savings or a plan.

My son and I had packed our four Chihuahuas and what we could fit in the car and moved to a motel.

My income was $765 disability and $91 food stamps per month. So, I was able to keep us in a room for two weeks at a time. The other two were spent at the SeaTac rest area on I-5 and at a truck stop where we could pay for a shower.

Living at the rest area
When you are at the rest area, the only really good thing is that you are right there next to Enchanted Village and Wild Waves. During the summer it would make you feel like you are not out in the woods. Sometimes you could just dream about it, like, “I wish I could take Brycen over there.” It did help.

When I first came to the rest area, I really didn’t pay much attention to anybody else. I didn’t want to be seen, didn’t want people to notice me sitting in my car, making my phone calls looking for shelter and doing my paperwork. I started to be more attentive to my surroundings, and who was coming and who was going.

I noticed this man. He walked by my car continuously, all day long. So, I started to watch him. He would go to the garbage can and he would rummage through it. He would go to the ashtray where people put out their cigarettes and he would go through that.

One day, it was pouring down rain and I noticed he went into the men’s room and he got a bunch of paper towels, came out and sopped up all the water out of the cigarette thing. He was hoping he could get a cigarette butt out of there that wasn’t sopping wet. And that is when I really started paying attention, like “Wow, he is really staying here.” Someone that is just passing through is not going to take the time to do that, you know.

As the days went by, I kept noticing the same vehicles there. Then, when I would go into the restroom, I would see everybody that would go in there – I would see their clothes – basically like a dressing room.

One day, I counted and I noticed there were about 12 vehicles with people that were living there. You’ll see them, just to kill time, take things out of their vehicles, put it back in. Like you would do in housework, doing housework in your car. Just something to do.

Well this man, one day I watched him and he went up to a gentleman who had a really nice car, and dressed really nice. You really can’t judge a book by its cover, but you had to assume that he probably had money. The guy was smoking right next to his car.

I had my window down just a little bit and I heard him say, “Do you have a cigarette?” And this man talked to him like he was just the lowest piece of garbage. You know: “Get away from me old man, I don’t know who you” – just awful words I can’t even say. So that just hurt me and I started to cry.

So, I went up to him after that gentleman left and I gave him a bunch of cigarettes. I asked him if he was hungry and he said he was. I had a few dollars in my pocket, so I drove to McDonald’s and got him some food and brought it back to him. He was just so shocked, I don’t think anyone had ever done that for him before.

When I could, I always made it a point to help him. When I got my apartment here, I’ve never forgotten him. I can’t forget him. Continue reading

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