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  • I'm a writer and a journalist,

  • and I'm also an insanely curious person,

  • so in 22 years as a journalist,

  • I've learned how to do a lot of new things.

  • And three years ago, one of the things I learned how to do

  • was to become invisible.

  • I became one of the working homeless.

  • I quit my job as a newspaper editor

  • after my father died in February of that same year,

  • and decided to travel.

  • His death hit me pretty hard.

  • And there were a lot of things that I wanted to feel and deal with while I was doing that.

  • I've camped my whole life. And I decided

  • that living in a van for a year to do this

  • would be like one long camping trip.

  • So I packed my cat, my Rottweiler

  • and my camping gear into a 1975 Chevy van,

  • and drove off into the sunset,

  • having fully failed to realize three critical things.

  • One: that society equates

  • living in a permanent structure, even a shack,

  • with having value as a person.

  • Two: I failed to realize how quickly

  • the negative perceptions of other people

  • can impact our reality, if we let it.

  • Three: I failed to realize

  • that homelessness is an attitude,

  • not a lifestyle.

  • At first, living in the van was great.

  • I showered in campgrounds. I ate out regularly.

  • And I had time to relax and to grieve.

  • But then the anger and the depression about my father's death set in.

  • My freelance job ended. And I had to get a full-time job

  • to pay the bills.

  • What had been a really mild spring

  • turned into a miserably hot summer.

  • And it became impossible to park anywhere --

  • (Laughs)

  • -- without being very obvious

  • that I had a cat and a dog with me, and it was really hot.

  • The cat came and went through an open window in the van.

  • The doggy went into doggy day care.

  • And I sweated.

  • Whenever I could, I used

  • employee showers in office buildings and truck stops.

  • Or I washed up in public rest rooms.

  • Nighttime temperatures in the van rarely dropped below 80 degrees Fahrenheit,

  • making it difficult or impossible to sleep.

  • Food rotted in the heat.

  • Ice in my ice chest melted within hours,

  • and it was pretty miserable.

  • I couldn't afford to find an apartment,

  • or couldn't afford an apartment that would allow me

  • to have the Rottweiler and the cat.

  • And I refused to give them up,

  • so I stayed in the van.

  • And when the heat made me too sick

  • to walk the 50 feet to the public restroom

  • outside my van at night,

  • I used a bucket and a trash bag as a toilet.

  • When winter weather set in, the temperatures dropped

  • below freezing. And they stayed there.

  • And I faced a whole new set of challenges.

  • I parked a different place every night

  • so I would avoid being noticed and hassled by the police.

  • I didn't always succeed.

  • But I felt out of control of my life.

  • And I don't know when or how it happened,

  • but the speed at which I went

  • from being a talented writer and journalist

  • to being a homeless woman, living in a van,

  • took my breath away.

  • I hadn't changed. My I.Q. hadn't dropped.

  • My talent, my integrity, my values,

  • everything about me remained the same.

  • But I had changed somehow.

  • I spiraled deeper and deeper into a depression.

  • And eventually someone referred me to a homeless health clinic.

  • And I went. I hadn't bathed in three days.

  • I was as smelly and as depressed as anyone in line.

  • I just wasn't drunk or high.

  • And when several of the homeless men realized that,

  • including a former university professor,

  • they said, "You aren't homeless. Why are you really here?"

  • Other homeless people didn't see me as homeless,

  • but I did.

  • Then the professor listened to my story and he said,

  • "You have a job. You have hope.

  • The real homeless don't have hope."

  • A reaction to the medication the clinic gave me for my depression

  • left me suicidal. And I remember thinking,

  • "If I killed myself, no one would notice."

  • A friend told me, shortly after that,

  • that she had heard that Tim Russert,

  • a nationally renowned journalist,

  • had been talking about me on national T.V.

  • An essay I'd written about my father,

  • the year before he died, was in Tim's new book.

  • And he was doing the talk show circuit. And he was talking about my writing.

  • And when I realized that Tim Russert, former moderator of "Meet the Press,"

  • was talking about my writing,

  • while I was living in a van in a Wal-Mart parking lot,

  • I started laughing.

  • You should too.

  • (Laughter)

  • I started laughing

  • because it got to the point where,

  • was I a writer, or was I a homeless woman?

  • So I went in the bookstore. And I found Tim's book.

  • And I stood there. And I reread my essay.

  • And I cried.

  • Because I was a writer.

  • I was a writer.

  • Shortly after that I moved back to Tennessee.

  • I alternated between living in a van and couch surfing with friends.

  • And I started writing again.

  • By the summer of the following year I was a working journalist.

  • I was winning awards. I was living in my own apartment.

  • I was no longer homeless.

  • And I was no longer invisible.

  • Thousands of people work full and part-time jobs,

  • and live in their cars.

  • But society continues to stigmatize and criminalize

  • living in your vehicle or on the streets.

  • So the homeless, the working homeless, primarily remain invisible.

  • But if you ever meet one,

  • engage them, encourage them, and offer them hope.

  • The human spirit can overcome anything if it has hope.

  • And I'm not here to be the poster girl for the homeless.

  • I'm not here to encourage you to give money to the next panhandler you meet.

  • But I am here to tell you that, based on my experience,

  • people are not where they live,

  • where they sleep,

  • or what their life situation is at any given time.

  • Three years ago I was living in a van

  • in a Wal-Mart parking lot,

  • and today I'm speaking at TED.

  • Hope always, always finds a way. Thank you.

  • (Applause)

I'm a writer and a journalist,

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B1 US TED homeless van journalist living writer

【TED】Becky Blanton: The year I was homeless (Becky Blanton: The year I was homeless)

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    Zenn posted on 2017/07/06
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