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When I Learned My Wife Had Once Been Homeless, And The Promise She Had Made

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

I have always known homelessness existed, but I never realized how close the issue was to me until my wife shared she had once been homeless. I didn't know what to say or do. It took a while to process everything.

a picture of a homeless person sleeping under the overpass in downtown Tampa

Here's what I've learned: It doesn't make a difference what race, sex, age or social class you are born into, if you're living in America and you fall on hard times, there's a chance it could end up with you being homeless.

My Wife's Story

When Marla opened up and shared her story with me, it was heartbreaking.

The way she ended up being homeless and the things she went through before becoming homeless were devastating to hear. Her transparency was heartfelt and inspiring.

All I could think was, wow, how could someone endure such pain and agony from this - from no fault of their own but because of the circumstances life dealt them.

I will not tell my wife's story. It is her's to tell.

picture of Ulisses Bautista, the author of this post, in his military uniform with his wife Marla and their 3 kids

I will share that I jumped into her mission to end homelessness fully invested. The research I have been doing and the stories I hear from individuals who have/are facing similar circumstances and from my veteran friends who are homeless are very hard to hear.

The Causes of Homelessness

Through my experiences and research, I've learned that homelessness is not society's problem - but homelessness is the result of several societal issues.

Many things lead to homelessness:

· Abandonment

· Domestic Violence

· Cost of Living

· Lack of affordable housing

· Mental Health

· Physical Illness

· Job loss

· Family tragedy

· Flaws in the criminal justice system

· Chasing the American Dream

· Economic downturn

"Homelessness has a broad meaning," writes UK Psychologist Parashar P. Ramanuj in Bearing the Cost of the American Dream.

The term homelessness or unhoused could refer to people having to bounce from one relative's house to another, couch surf with friends, live in shelters or hotels, sleep in their car, or worst-case scenario live on the streets.

people sleeping in a car bundled up in sleeping bags

Homelessness does not apply only to adults but also to families, teens and young children.

Approximately 1.5 million children experience homelessness in America each year. The current economic recession and staggering numbers of housing foreclosures have caused the number of homeless families to increase dramatically. In the 1980s, families accounted for less than 1% of all homeless populations but by 2009, they had risen to 32% of the homeless population. (Ending child homelessness in America. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, pg 496–504. )

downtown Tampa and a homeless man standing in the rain with his belonging in plastic bags at his feet

Veterans make up another community who has experienced homelessness in the United States. An estimated 37,000 veterans are living on the streets, in their cars, or at the mercy of a friend's couch. These are men and women who gave their all, watched their friends die, and believed that America would have a job for them when their time at war came to an end.

The American Dream

The homeless carry the stigma of "stranger." They are the daily reminders of our failures as a society.

In America, we believe that anyone can achieve success with the right amount of ambition and dedication. "This is the American dream," says Ramanuj. "It is a noble ideology, if only it were true..."

You can see this playing out in the city where I live, downtown Tampa. As the tourism traffic increases at various times of the year, the homeless are pushed from the downtown area, regardless of whether or not they work downtown.

The city does not want to see homeless community members out there because it could affect their tourism revenue.

When homeless community members are relocated, homelessness isn't suddenly solved. Instead, a greater gap of understanding is created. Those who have abundance are further removed from those who have none. Homelessness is not overcome; it is simply put out of sight.

The result of multiple problems in our society (aka homelessness) is relocated to suburbia or lower-income areas where service and entry level jobs are often less available. We see it now as more and more homeless are being pushed from downtown Tampa and are finding their way to Riverview and Brandon.

In the end, this is a short-term solution because those who are desperate for work will go to where the jobs are, and if the jobs are in downtown Tampa they will migrate back to the bus stops and parks where they knew how to find resources and who they could safely approach for help.

downtown Tampa at a bus stop where a number of homeless individuals spend their days and nights

The Pandemic's Effect on Homelessness

This pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but for those who:

· were already living paycheck to paycheck

· who experienced the tragic death of their caregiver

· faced eviction

· were already homeless

· lacked health insurance

· aged out of the foster care system

· or...

COVID-19 did not lead them a step closer to the American dream; it lead to homelessness.

Unemployment, poverty, disability, and the uninsured increase during periods of economic downturns.

Ending Homelessness

Did you know that The New York Times reported in 2012 that there were plans in place to end chronic and veteran homelessness - by 2015 - and to end homelessness among families and children - by 2020?

So why haven't we?

In the US, homelessness is a complex problem that can't be solved by a single solution. I'm a big believer in education being an essential part of the solution. The more people know about what's going on and how to help, the better our chances are of ending this crisis one day.

But understanding the reality of what is happening in our society isn't everything. Action is required.

Because there are so many problems that result in homelessness, a cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all solution is not possible. Personalized care plans are necessary to end the cycle of homelessness on our streets.

What The Bautista Project Does

My wife and I co-founded The Bautista Project to be part of the solution. Through this non-profit and the generous contributions of the community, we provide basic living essentials, educational resources, support groups, and other necessary resources to assist individuals experiencing chronic homelessness and those who are at risk of becoming homeless.