I started coming to Goldie’s Place in 2002, when I was in treatment for alcoholism. At the time, I had been homeless for 15 years. I remember days back then when I would see people going to work, and just doing stuff that normal people do, and I would wonder, what happened? What happened to me, and how did I get like this?
Before I became homeless, I had a good job. I worked downtown as a supervisor in customer service for Time Magazine. I was also in love, but the man I loved was a drinker. We started to drink and party together, and as a result, I started to miss days at work. Not long after that, Time Magazine announced it would be moving its office to Florida, but the man I loved was here in Chicago. I didn’t take the offer to relocate.
I thought it would be easy to find another job, but that didn’t happen. I began to fall behind in my bills, and I wound up getting put out of my apartment because I couldn’t make the rent. I had to start sleeping in my car. I worked temp assignments to get by, but I struggled to keep them since I didn’t have a comfortable place to live. I even lost one assignment because of my body odor, because I didn’t have a place to wash up. The car that I was living in got towed one day while I was at work, and I couldn’t go to any of my friends for help—by then, I had borrowed money from all of them that I hadn’t paid back. I didn’t want them to see me like that, anyway.
So, I ended up living on the streets. I slept everywhere—downtown by the river, underground. During the winter when it got extremely cold, I would ride the trains and see the same faces–people who were homeless like I was. We were like a community. But to everyone else, I felt invisible. I remember having on three or four pairs of pants and a big coat, and knowing the whole time that people were judging me. I can’t blame them, because that’s how I used to look at people who were homeless. But for every person who looked down and kicked, there were two more who helped. We hear about bad people all the time, but there are a lot of beautiful people in this city. For awhile, I got to the point where it felt like I would be homeless for the rest of my life. But after years and years, I began to get tired, and I told God I needed help. Then one day when I was downtown begging during the Taste of Chicago festival, I happened to run into a girl I went to high school with. She was so beautiful. She called out to me by name, but I told her it wasn’t me. She said, “Carrie, you don’t have to do that, I know that’s you.” But my life had gotten so bad that I was hiding out. I had known that woman since I was a little girl, and I’ll never forget the shame that I felt when I looked her in the face and told her that I wasn’t Carrie. After that, I just didn’t feel the same, and I knew I had to do something different. That’s when I went to treatment for alcoholism.
At the treatment center, Billy from Goldie’s Place came to tell us about all the services they offer there, and at first all I heard was teeth. I had a chipped tooth, and that’s what got me to Goldie’s in the first place. I called, I came, and they haven’t been able to get rid of me since. Johanna has this calmness and this peace that’s so attractive to me. After living among all of this chaos for so long, Goldie’s Place was the calm that happens after the storm. They said they wanted to help me and prepare me not just for a job, but for life, too.
I would come to Goldie’s Place almost every day. I’d talk to the people who worked there, use the computer to look for jobs, and make calls on the phone. When I got an interview, I went into the clothes closet at Goldie’s to pick out something to wear. I chose this cute outfit–a beige shirt-dress that buttoned up, some brown Anne Klein shoes with the thick, chunky heel that was fashionable at the time, and a maroon and cream scarf that I tied around my neck. Johanna, you’ll notice, likes to tie scarves around her neck, and I liked the way it looked. I got the job. It was a temporary assignment, but it gave me the confidence I needed to go get back on the right path. Since I was floating on this new confidence, I also went back to school. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, and today, I’m still working at the job that I got when I was getting help at Goldie’s Place 12 years ago.
Goldie’s Place gave me hope, confidence, purpose, direction, perseverance. And Johanna made me feel that it was okay where I came from, the mistakes that I made, and what happened to me. I see life differently now. I don’t take water for granted, or the washroom, or seeing someone smile at me. I don’t take life for granted. I don’t take people for granted. I smile, even when I feel like frowning, because I know it can always be worse. I’m grateful. Oooh, am I grateful. I can sense a movement that’s going on for homeless people everywhere. I think if there’s enough of us working to help, we can make a change.
The scarring, and the hurt feelings, and the pride get in the way, but if I could say one thing to people who are homeless now, it would be, “Ask for help.” We’re not bad people, we just made bad choices, and sometimes it’s hard to recover from those. I understand how so many people can get caught and washed out to sea, but homelessness is not the end. It could be the beginning of something else—it was for me.
– As Told to Jane Flotte