Well, I’m ‘normal’ and I was homeless for two-thirds of my life through NO fault of my own - unless you’re trying to imply that I somehow chose to be born to poor parents that ended up dying on me abruptly, leaving me to fend for myself in a society full of selfish, narcissistic people that never cared about anyone except themselves.
I was orphaned when I was 12 in 1980. As a result, my older sister, who was 17 at the time, had to drop out of high school to work full-time at a sub-minimum wage waitress job which never paid enough to keep us housed and fed. We were always one $10/mo rent increase away from being evicted. I was too young to be able to get any kind of a job. There weren’t any better job opportunities available to my sister because women - especially poor women without a high school diploma - never had anywhere near as many job opportunities as someone born white and male. The gains of the feminist movement never trickled down to benefit us.
Because we were always hungry, cold, and being evicted as soon as the rent was raised in whatever crappy roach and rat infested apartment we could afford on her waitress tips at the time, we were vulnerable and very easy prey.
We had an uncle who had an upper-middle class life, a nice suburban home with a stay-at-home wife and two kids closer to me in age. My sister called him begging him and his wife (my aunt through marriage) to at least take me in if they couldn’t take us both, saying that she’d manage somehow on her own but there was no way she could take care of the both of us on what little money a waitress got, especially with no healthcare.
My uncle refused to take in even just me. Because it would have cramped his family’s style. They were used to things like backyard BBQs, annual family vacations to Disneyland, buying things like cousin Cheyl’s piano and clarinet lessons, cousin Timmy’s sports stuff, the best clothes and brand new cars every other year, croquet sets, country club memberships, and a backyard swimming pool.
And that’s how we both ended up getting trafficked into prostitution by members of a criminal outlaw motorcycle gang who promised to help us by getting her a good-paying job so we’d never be hungry and homeless again. I survived to eventually tell our story, my sister didn’t.
So, while my aunt and uncle and two cousins were living large, experiencing the American Dream of a nice safe warm comfortable home, a good education, a normal teenage life, dental care, plenty of good food, trips to Disneyland, cookouts, swimming in their pool, I was experiencing the American Nightmare of being trafficked from age 12–17, getting raped by grown-ass men who had daughters older than me, who felt entitled to use their money and male privilege to buy rape tickets.
I finally escaped that hell by sheer dumb luck (after “working my way up from ‘ho’ to drug mule”) at the age of 17 with only a 7th grade education, visibly decayed/broken/missing teeth (a result of the violence I suffered while being sex trafficked), nothing but the clothes on my back and a deeply stigmatizing prostitution record (which followed me for life, rendering me unemployable), and no family I could turn to that would help me.
I was left to flounder for several years, homeless, struggling to pick up the pieces of my ruined life with exactly ZERO help from the society that threw me (and my sister) away and let me get trafficked in the first place. I couldn’t get any help from welfare because I didn’t have kids. Once Welfare Reform was passed, even America’s poorest women with kids and multiple barriers to employment had the floor collapsed underneath them.
I finally was able to get my GED through a pilot program at a local community college aimed at helping poor women - many who were casualties of Welfare Reform, and many who were displaced homemakers whose husbands abandoned them - with getting high school diplomas and Associates Degrees. While homeless. After that, I transferred what credits I could to a state university, and earned my Bachelors Degree in math with a physics minor, graduating at the age of 34 in May 2001.
It was a miracle I was even able to make it and graduate. I was so poor I couldn’t even afford my cap and gown.
There were brief times that I wasn’t homeless during those years I was struggling to get through college as an extremely disadvantaged non-traditional aged student, but my housing meant staying with an abusive ex-boyfriend and his equally abusive mother. Because abusive, selfish and manipulative control freaks were the only kind of men that would “have” poor women with a suspected checkered past like me - a “past” that I did not choose for myself, mind you. I ended up out on the streets as a result of the physical abuse. Again.
I tried getting a job, but no one would hire me. I had to face prospective employers with visible conditions of poverty (i.e. visibly decayed/broken/missing teeth) that I could not easily hide. I had no middle class connections to the job market and the society which forced me out onto the margins in the first place wasn’t eager to help me. I had no stable housing, so no address, no phone, and no computer or anything. Plus I had a prostitution record because of having been trafficked as a homeless adolescent. Nobody gave me a chance for a job.
While everyone else my age were well into getting established in middle class jobs, buying homes, preparing for a partner and a family, I was struggling while homeless, sick and hungry to make up for the basic education my traffickers didn’t let me get during the normal years everybody else got high school, first dates, proms and first jobs.
For years, I literally pounded the pavement trying to get employment but nobody gave me a chance - “not enough experience”, “not a good culture fit”, etc. etc. And the rare one or two times an employer did finally give me a chance and hired me, I was abruptly let go within days after the background check.
In 2003 at the age of 36, I finally wasn’t homeless anymore after meeting and marrying a disabled widower who was/is 25 years older than me with grown kids who aren’t much younger than me. I finally had a stable place to live and found someone who genuinely cared about me and wasn’t abusive - which is VERY rare for poor marginalized women like me whom nobody in society ever cared about. But my husband’s $900/mo social security check wasn’t and isn’t enough for one person to live on, let alone two. And as hard as I tried for the many years that I had been trying, nobody gave me a chance for a job.
I did not know that my deeply stigmatizing record was dogging me my whole life until I was in my mid-40’s many years later when I met other trafficking survivors through social media who are my age, who were part of a movement in trying to get restorative justice for people (mostly women) like “us.” For so many years, I was isolated and completely marginalized because I was poor, homeless, and lived with a painful and deeply shameful “secret” of having been one of “those girls.”
In a society that punishes the poor for being poor, and refuses to give those in most need of a job any kind of a chance, it was too difficult and dangerous to “come out” as poor - never mind as poor AND trafficked in a society that has nothing but contempt for the victims of injustice that privileged people created and benefit from.
Some things are just too traumatizing and horrific to talk about - especially to those who will most likely reject you for it, and for many years I couldn’t out myself as a trafficking victim - especially not while my traffickers were still alive, even if they were in prison for federal firearms charges. Being poor and homeless means you can’t get your basic survival needs met, never mind protect yourself from people who will harm you and even kill you for daring to speak out about what they did to you as a homeless child.
Society did not even recognize that American women and girls (and boys, too) who were forced into prostitution were also trafficking victims. When former President Clinton signed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in the year 2000, American victims of this very same crime were excluded and denied the same legal protections and helping hand up to rebuild our lives that foreign trafficking victims were automatically accorded even though the majority of human trafficking victims in the US are poor American women and kids who were born and raised here.
Privileged people who set up and rigged the entire system to favor themselves at the expense of people with no privilege, apparently thought that while foreign women that were forced into prostitution were victims of the crime of human trafficking, American women and girls enjoyed prostitution and couldn’t possibly be victims too.
It took an unbelievable amount of courage for many of us older survivors to finally speak out after suffering poverty, isolation, and shame for decades. And the thanks we got for finally speaking out in our 40’s and 50’s about what was done to us and how our lives were totally destroyed because of it, was doxxed, stalked, harassed, and our Gofundmes - our only option for getting any money to be able to just barely survive - attacked and sabotaged by petty, vindictive privileged people who’ve never suffered in poverty that’s so deep that a $5 donation can be the difference between life and death.
We also routinely get belittled, dismissed and written off as “damaged goods” by privileged people who are (supposedly) “allies” to trafficking survivors in the movement to fight human trafficking - a movement that was literally built off of the backs of women just like me that privileged people who are NOT trafficking survivors turned into their personal cash cow, riding the gravy train of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex to generate six figure incomes for themselves from all this federal and state anti-trafficking funding - while poor struggling older trafficking survivors (like me) who started this movement got nothing but shit and shoved in it.
Privileged people get all the good jobs, all the economic opportunities, the nice houses, the good lives, and all the anti-trafficking money (along with all the accolades and social prizes and rewards) that trafficking survivors suffered for, while actual survivors are forced into a Hunger Games situation to try to get helped with paltry and grossly inadquate crumbs of token charity just to barely keep ourselves alive. They’re eating steak while we’re left having to beg for oatmeal.
Most of us not only suffered poverty and homelessness all our lives due to the ‘normal’ amount of job discrimination against women that ALL women across ALL racial and socio-economic class lines face which has always impacted poor women the most, we also suffer the extra discrimination and stigma for our status as survivors of sex trafficking. In most states, a prostitution record automatically confers a 99-year “sex offender” status.
Try getting a job and passing the background checks to rent even a crappy apartment with a prostitution record as a trafficking victim. Even in states that finally expunged and vacated our records, we still are denied jobs because everybody else still looks down on us and won’t give us chances for jobs we can actually do after getting educations and building skillsets like software development later in life.
I finally got my first computer (after an entire lifetime of poverty and homelessness) when I was in my early 40’s and had been married (which is how I finally got myself housed since no one ever gave me a chance for a job). I began teaching myself software development skills at the age of 46 once high speed Internet was finally made available in my area (I live in the poor side of a poor Rust Belt town sandwiched between the Midwest and the ass-end of Appalachia), without any money to afford courses, books, or dev bootcamps that guarantee employment upon graduation or your tuition 100% refunded. I finally got helped from a pro bono attorney to get my underaged prostitution record completely expunged when I was 47. But try getting your first job as a 47 year old woman living in poverty. Good luck with that!
I struggled to build that impressive skillset around the obstacles of extreme poverty with constant interruptions of utility shut-offs, sickness without medical care, no heat in the winter, and malnutrition with no support and help to succeed. But I still am not getting any chances for jobs - because I’m no longer young and tech industry employers, in addition to their classism and sexism bias, won’t hire me because I’m now “too old” for any of them to want to hire.
You only get just so many years in life to become un-poor and make it up into the middle class. And if that doesn’t happen for you by the time you’re 40, it’s game over. I am now 50 years old. And because my 74 year old husband’s social security check isn’t enough to afford the property taxes which we are over two years delinquent on for our substandard run-down home on the poor side of town, I’m now facing homelessness again at age 50+, with health problems from Crohn’s disease, because of not being able to get any kind of sustainable, living wage-level income after everything I’ve tried to rebuild my life as a poor marginalized trafficking survivor.
I suffered an entire lifetime of poverty, material deprivation and total social exclusion. I paid far more than my fair share of life’s dues, and I never got a chance for a job and I’ve tried a hell of a lot harder for a hell of a lot longer than privileged people ever had to only to STILL get denied any kind of real economic opportunity. Because of age discrimination on top of everything else I’ve had to suffer as a poor marginalized woman who’s a human trafficking survivor.
As a human trafficking survivor, I’m a member of a demographic that has complex PTSD rates equal to that of combat vets in a war zone, a 90% unemployment rate, an 80% homelessness rate, and the lowest life expectancy rates out of any other poor, oppressed group on the planet - including Africa’s “child soldiers.”
And if you or anyone else thinks for one God blessed minute that I, or others just like me, did this to ourselves because we “didn’t try hard enough”, or because we’re ‘not normal’ and therefore ‘deserve’ our poverty and suffering, or that we somehow “chose” to be poor, marginalized, homeless unable to economically provide for ourselves, getting nothing except to suffer without basic needs for most of our lives, I’ve got a bridge for sale to go with some beachfront property in Arizona.
(Edited on December 15th, 2017: At the behest of several other Quorans, I finally broke down and made a fundraiser in my only real hope for being able to prevent homelessness within less than a month. Here it is: Click here to support Help Trafficking Survivor Jacqueline Homan to Survive )