A baby boomer reflects on her own homelessness

The norm on BoomerCafé is, we run stories about active baby boomers and how they live and how they cope. Today’s is no different, except for the “coping” part. Doreen Frick of Ord, Nebraska, had to cope a few years ago with challenges most of us hopefully haven’t had to face. Yet if things in our lives were just a little bit different, most of us could have found ourselves facing the same things. Doreen got through it, and now shares her story with the rest of us.

When I was fifty-eight I underwent a four-month period of being homeless. My husband and I did have a roof over our heads, but it wasn’t ours and it depended on working where we worked and so, when we lost it, I was in that fragile season of waiting and hoping and praying for our own place to live. Without one, technically we’d be homeless.

For Doreen and Wes, there was a time of managing a motel for someone else.

It all came about quite suddenly. One day I saw my husband slumped over a ladder clearing snow off the roof of the motel we were managing and my heart dropped. That’s when it was obvious, we needed to leave. I turned in our notice on Christmas Day and called a friend and began to cry. I asked if she knew of any other place that was hiring, someplace where no one had to shovel snow off the roof!

I’m sure the motel’s owners wouldn’t have kicked us out in the middle of winter. But thankfully we didn’t have to depend on that. An alternative came along: friends offered us their camper to live in while we looked for a place to rent. The day we moved out of the motel and into the camper the skies were clean and bright with Washington State’s winter cold. But it quickly got a little scary: we woke up to thirty degrees in the camper because, fearing that its old electric heater might catch fire, my husband had not kept it running through the night.

Husband Wes beside the minivan and the big snow that put him over the top!

But oh, still, I was thankful. Cold, yes, but grateful for a place to rest my head, clear my thoughts, and re-group for our future. Our friends offered an upstairs bedroom in their house but we declined, knowing we would be fine in the camper once we got a more reliable heater. Soup, hot and homemade, was my passion that January of 2012. Soup and writing. Soup and reading my Bible. Hot tea and filling out job applications.

Before the month was out, we’d had several leads for places and jobs but nothing materialized, and when our friends decided to go south for the rest of the winter they graciously asked us to move into their home to “house-sit” until April. We took care of their chickens, kept the house, and kept looking for work. As luck would have it— in this case, good luck— the day before they came back home to Washington, we found a place to rent and I found a full-time job, while my husband began to get some day-jobs.

Doreen Frick with her husband Wes.

Fortunately the place we were moving into did not require a first and last month’s deposit or the signing of a year-long lease, because we did not have a spare cent nor did we have a guarantee that my job would continue past June. Month-by-month though we were able to pay our rent and electric bills and our kind landlords chipped in to reimburse us for some of the electricity because they felt the trailer was drafty and they planned on insulating it better in the summer. Weren’t they good to do such a thing!

That experience in my mid-life was a faith-builder. I was so grateful each night for a roof over my head, each meal was taken with grace. Each Monday our local food pantry was pivotal in providing nutritional food, combined with the goodness of friends, neighbors, and strangers. Someone sent me $200 at Christmas, another told the local grocery store to give me $50 worth of anything I needed, both anonymous donors. An older couple spied a pair of work boots and snagged them for me and a lady who was just my size cleaned out her closets and gave me her finest give-aways, washed, pressed, and just my taste.

There are many things a community can do when one of their own falls upon difficult times. My husband was reticent at first to take anything but soon became one of the most valued “volunteers” at the food pantry and used his handyman skills to help the widows and widowers of our community, all of whom became dear friends and mentors. I spent most of my free time writing and giving away my stories to everyone who was so generous with us and I continue doing this today because sometimes it’s a story that comforts and encourages when we lose our stability. A story that really never ends, because life is never sure. Only our Father in heaven knows what’s ahead, and that’s where we keep our focus.

4 Comments

  1. In Canada there are over 300,000 seniors living on fixed incomes which are under the poverty line. Mainly because of ageism seniors are forced to get by on their meager fixed income pensions. Seniors whether they are homeless or living high on the hog have much more to contribute to this relatively uncaring society. We must change the mindset of all politicians reminding them that their parents or even themselves could face a serious illness or be disabled. Sometimes we don’t get the necessary changes until it affects the people in power themselves. Then it becomes a higher priority to take care of seniors who worked throughout their lives helping others that needed help.

    1. Thanks for your comment Joe. What I’ve gleaned from my experiences is that sometimes we as a community need to step in and reach our neighbor. I had never even heard of a Food Pantry until one day when I was selling a stamp collection the person I sold it to bought it on one condition. He said, “Give at least ten percent of what I give you to the Food Pantry” and I thought, “What’s a food pantry?” That was a wake-up call. And that little notion stuck in my head and now I see how we can pick up the slack that gaps in unemployment create. I so appreciate your outlook and yes your value of the human spirit.

  2. Thank you for sharing this, Doreen. Homelessness can happen to anyone, anytime. Good for you and your husband to have the fortitude to pull through with graciousness. I think everything happens for a reason. Your life will be more rich because of that experience, I’m sure.

  3. Great story, Doreen!
    We all need to help our neighbors, especially when they are doing all they can to help themselves!

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