By A.B. Thomas
Editor’s note; A. B. Thomas is an energetic content writer for the Subversify staff, gracing our pages with outrageous cartoons, uninhibited stories, and very serious, perceptive articles. He hails from Alberta, Canada and set out to discover the situation of the homeless treated much in the same way as U.S. Social Services. This is the coverage of one man’s story. There are many more out there, waiting to be heard.
Three years ago Frank was making a decent living for his common-law partner, Dee, their two preschool twins, and a third child on the way by driving a gravel truck. They rented a three bedroom condo, had a mini van and though they had little money for extras after paying bills and buying food, they were happy. This would all change on a foggy morning in May of 2006. Frank had decided to get up and go to work early in order to drive his unit across town for maintenance. He hated to drive when the visibility was so poor so he inched his truck out of the yard, stopping several times checking to see if the main road was clear for him to pull out. He saw that there were no fog lights cutting through the thickness and began pulling out.
Frank heard a bang on the right side of his front wheel well. Two brown eyes looked at him momentarily in his front windshield then he heard a thud and cracking noise to the left of him. Frank got out of his truck. Ten feet from his vehicle laid a Honda 1100 Goldwing motorcycle with its driver crushed underneath it. He rushed over to pull the bike off the man. He discovered later that the man had died immediately when the bike had crushed through the helmet and punctured the skull. Frank would never forget the motorcyclist’s eyes – the terrified helpless look he saw in the windshield to the flattened and bloody place where those eyes should have been where the motorcyclist died. The police cleared him of any wrong doing; the motor cyclist had been hugging the curb at ‘an unsafe speed’. If he had not been going to fast, he never would have hit Frank’s truck. Frank couldn’t forget however and to this day has paralyzing bouts of depression and nightmares where the eyes burn into his own.
After the accident, Frank found that he couldn’t put himself behind the wheel of any vehicle, even the family mini van. He would break out in sweats and begin hyperventilating. For three months the gravel company paid compassionate leave but eventually decided they had to let Frank go. The medical and psychiatric professionals cleared Frank of any disability, physical or mental, that would stop him from working. Frank tried to find other jobs but he would lose them soon after getting them. Dee thought that perhaps she would work and Frank would stay home with their three children. The best she could find was a part time night job as a hotel clerk which paid minimum wage and was only for 35 hours a month. This could not get them out of the debt they had accumulated and after a year they were four months behind on all their bills, the electricity had been turned off and they had received an eviction notice. They sold their van but it could not stave off the collection agencies for long.
Frank and Dee went to Social Services to receive government assistance so that their family would not be forced onto the street. They were turned down. Frank was an able bodied worker, the intake worker told the couple; it was that “he was just lazy”.
A week later, Frank, Dee and their three children were living in a homeless shelter. They were told that this situation was only temporary; they could only stay for thirty days. The shelter would help them as best it could to find a lower income assisted housing situation for them, but admitted that a ‘whole’ family were harder to place than a broken family. Frank and Dee went for a walk with the prospect of their children having no warm place to sleep, no food, no security, in less than a month. They came to a decision; to protect the children Frank would have to leave Dee.
That night Frank packed up a backpack of clothes, leaving the shelter and his family behind. He went to a local park, and slept under a pine tree to partially cover him from the snow that was still falling. That first night he was ‘rolled’; his wallet was stolen, leaving him with nothing to confirm his identity. When Frank attended the next Social Service meeting, Dee’s social worker told him that he would pay child support or face criminal charges because “though you left her you haven’t left your responsibilities”. Dee told the social worker that Frank was not like that and that she expected nothing from him – he was a good man and he would do what he could, but the social worker chose not to listen, citing that obviously Frank terrified her into saying such things. The social worker gave a paper to sign to dissolve the joint bank account Dee and he had, an agreement to pay $700 in child support, and an agreement that all contact with Dee would be done through the social workers to avoid any ‘domestic situations’. Dee told him not to, but Frank signed the papers.
The homeless shelter found Dee a housing unit that was run by the local Woman’s shelter where she and the children lived for six months. Social services gave Dee a monthly allowance for food and clothing as well as money to take on-line job training. Frank worked on and off a few days at a time, continued to stay under trees at night or occasionally on the couch of a person that he had worked with for a few days, but those opportunities would not last long as Frank’s nightmares would lead to a quick withdrawal of the couch offer. Without identification, Frank was unable to open a bank account or get any replacement identification as he did not have an address.
During this time Frank never saw Dee or his children except on a bi monthly supervised visit in a mall food court for one hour. Many of the other residents of the complex were from the shelter as well. Purportedly, they had come from abusive situations so exes were not permitted to know the address or phone number for security purposes. Frank understood that. He didn’t like it, but knowing that Dee and the children were warm and fed were the only important things.
Now, two years later, Dee and the children are living in an income assisted housing unit that they share with another woman and her child. Both the older children have started school and Dee works part time and no longer is dependent on government assistance to pay the bills or provide for the children. Dee managed to buy another minivan so that she and the children would not have to rely on the city transit system to get around town. Though the structure of the housing situation is looser, the same rules about exes exist; no contact within the property.
Frank has a bedroom that he rents from a friend for two hundred a month. He still works on and off, but the work is steadier with a contractor who understands Frank and is easy going with the bad days. Frank still doesn’t have a bank account or picture identification but he was able to get copies of his social insurance number and his health coverage. The provincial government considers Frank a ‘deadbeat dad’ because he has never been able to make the $700 monthly minimum payments, but have not pursued him for it as Dee has never signed a complaint and havs sent in reports stating that he has sent money when he can to her. Though the visitations are no longer supervised, Frank still has to fill out request forms in order to see Dee and the children…officially.
What makes Frank and Dee unique is that in their minds they will be celebrating their eleventh anniversary in less than a month’s time. They never stopped loving each other, never stopped considering themselves a family. They did what any parents would do: whatever was necessary to keep their children safe. On that walk that night at the homeless shelter they chose to play by the government rules; to a certain point; for the good of their family. Together they could lean on each other for support, but that support wouldn’t fill their children’s stomachs, give them warm beds or a roof over their heads. Frank did not want his weakness to make Dee suffer; Dee didn’t want Frank to go through his demons alone. They argued back and forth with Frank winning in the end. In the eyes of the medical profession he wasn’t impaired so that any help that could have afforded the opportunity for him to work it out was not going to be available. He did not want to be responsible for Dee and the children’s fall into the hell he found himself in. Knowing that Dee and the children were safe would take away some of the stress that he found himself stuck on, worsening the depressive episodes that he went through. Dee relented, though she did not think at the time that getting out from underneath the government’s wings would take so long or paint her lover, her best friend, her partner, as something that he was the opposite of in so many others eyes.
There are only a few select friends, old and new, that don’t see Frank and Dee as single people – Social Services at the beginning, did interviews and ‘spot’ checks to make sure that Frank was no longer of any influence of Dee and the children. Mst of the people who knew the couple, assumed that Frank had done something devious, an impression re-enforced with the aid of inference from the social workers. The entire time they have been separated in the government’s prying eyes, Frank gave the majority of the money he made to Dee, which has helped Dee make ends meet that her job alone wouldn’t have been able to cover otherwise. The children see Frank on a regular basis, with much sneaking about, and Dee admits, it’s a hardship for them. The children know that they can’t talk about their daddy, but Dee and Frank can’t come ‘out of the closet’; neither make enough to afford the full cost of a home that would give the security their children need.
As time passes, as Frank’s nightmares have begun to lessen their impact on his frame of mine. He is working more consistently. Dee has two bank accounts; one for the current house needs and one, which she admits is less than two hundred dollars, but hopes one day to turn into a joint account when the finances are stable enough that she and Frank can be together again; openly, as the family they have always been in their minds.
Frank and Dee’s story is unique in that though they are separate they consider themselves a couple and have remained committed to each other in the face of economic, emotional and societal hardships that for the majority of couples would harken the end of the relationship. Perhaps they will end up with the fantasy of the white picket fence, maybe they will not. What their story does do is opens the floor to questions. Why is the psychiatric discipline so apt to dismiss traumatic experiences as debilitating while quickly jumping on mothers who smoke during pregnancy as the reason their children have behavioral disorders that must be treated professionally? Why do governments disregard two parent family units as in lesser need than the ones with single parents? If parents that have split have made arrangements between themselves about support, why do governments feel the need to enforce the ones they deem appropriate? There are a myriad of other questions that could be asked but the one that should be looked at with the sternest of eyes is are we a collective of individuals or are we merely tabs on files that are sorted into easy to find folders for governments to decide what is to be done with us?