Three lessons I learned from being homeless

homeless

A few years ago, Nancy Davis started hanging around the {grow} community and became one of its most popular contributors to the comment section. I had a chance to meet her in New Jersey and strongly encouraged her to begin blogging. She did — and her openness and authentic helpfulness caught on with a lot of people. Soon, she was contributing to many leading marketing blogs.

But throughout 2011, her many friends slowly but surely saw her life unravel before their eyes through her blog and dramatic Facebook posts.  Within a few short months, the blogging had ended and Nancy was focused on just finding a place to sleep at night.   

Nancy Davis has lived through a nightmare many of us will never experience. Here is her story, here are her lessons. And this is the start of her comeback as a blogger.

By Nancy Davis, {grow} Community Member

In August of 2011, I lost my good paying job. I had some emergency funds saved but not enough. I fell behind in my rent, and as a result was evicted from my apartment. Life declined steadily as I could not find work or a safety net.

2012 was without a doubt, the hardest year of my life. In this past year, I lost my home and almost all of my possessions. The one thing I did not lose was hope. While this year was a tough taskmaster in many ways, I have learned a few great lessons that I would like to share with you.

Life Can Change in an Instant 

Life changed forever the moment I no longer had a permanent address.

Instead of planning and thinking and blogging, my life became a matter of finding work and doing whatever job was in front of me at the moment.  I had to give up any notion of working in marketing and became a house painter, a construction worker, and I even weeded flower beds in the hot sun for a whole 20 bucks. I fixed a fence in blistering heat with no water and no shade for 40 bucks. Some days I made no money at all. I simply worked for food.

There has been no offer of work that has been turned down. Jobs I would have looked down my nose at a few years ago I do today without hesitation. I have had to learn a whole new set of skills to do all of these jobs. I even got over my fear of heights and ladders when I was painting houses.

Today, I am working in an auto body shop doing prep work. I have learned that the equation for survival  is surprisingly simple – if we don’t work, we don’t eat.

Another lesson I learned was flexibility. When you are continually behind in your rent, you learn how to pack your stuff quickly and go. I wound up living in a homeless shelter in my home state, hoping that I could get some assistance finding permanent housing.

What I found was that I had to adapt to losing my routine. When I had my own place, I was used to getting up at a certain time, having my coffee, writing my blog, whatever I wanted to do. Now, I was being awakened every day at 6 a.m. I had to get out of bed, pack my stuff up, wash my face and go off to whatever work I could find.

If I was not back in the shelter by 5 p.m., I did not get dinner that day. Then I had to put my name on a list requesting to take a shower. The person I was a few years ago could not have handled all of this change. I’m a different person now.

You Never Know Where Help Will Come From

Before I was served with eviction papers, I  was blogging every day and had developed strong relationships on the social web. I told everyone in my life what was going on and I was amazed at the response. One of my friends wrote two blog posts about my situation, another re-tweeted my original post anywhere possible, asking others to come help.

That was the tip of the iceberg.

In the early days of December 2011, I was still trying to hang on to my apartment. I was two months behind in my rent. I was looking for work anywhere and everywhere. On a cold and blustery Wednesday morning, I received a text message from one of my social media friends. She told me there would be a UPS envelope at my door with a substantial check inside. I walked the few blocks to my home, and there it was. I opened the brown envelope to not only find the check, but to also read the neatly typed letter with the names of the many  people who donated money to help me. Three of these people I never even met before. I only knew them from my blog and from Twitter.

I held the check and the letter and began to slowly cry. I cried because I never felt so grateful. It was one of the greatest feelings to know that I had friends who would do this for me.

A week or so after that, I was contacted by another social media friend who wanted to know what my son wanted for Christmas. Obviously I could not afford presents.  She was kind enough to send him a Yankee jersey and I could tell him it came from Santa. We lived in a small town, so the local Catholic Church heard of our plight and they also donated gifts. Acquaintances I had not talked to since high school brought over gifts not just for my son, but for me as well.

If You Don’t Laugh, You Will Cry

There have been lots of tears over the last year.  There were days that I would just sit and cry over all the things I lost, and the relationships that were permanently changed. Some folks drifted away, while others simply turned their backs since they did not approve of some of the choices I made.

I had a decision to make, I could sit and cry, or I could try to find the silver lining and laugh at the situation.  There certainly were many days where I did not feel like laughing.  In some of our darker days, we would joke about having enough money to get a three dollar package of pork fat from the local bodega. Then, we would eat and laugh about some silly thing that we saw or that someone said.

There was a day in May while painting a house, that we all broke out into song randomly. We began singing “Top Of the World” by The Carpenters. That was when we knew we needed to pack it up and go home. We laughed about that the whole rest of the day. There were many other strange and funny incidents throughout the year. Those moments of pure laughter kept me going when I would get stuck in self-pity.

As I enter 2013, my biggest goal is to re-gain my confidence and stop telling myself “I can’t” because I can!

I am looking forward to better things in this year and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to begin to write again and share with all of you my biggest lessons of this year.

Nancy Davis is an auto body worker by day and a writer by night. She resides in New York. Nancy’s biggest goal is to help people who have no hope, and to bring awareness to the homeless situation here in the United States. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @nancyd68

Illustration courtesy BigStock.com

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  • Hi Nancy,

    I can’t imagine that this post was easy to write, but I am glad you did. It was brave, honest and filled with heart.

    That speaks volumes about you.

  • teob

    Dear Nancy, never lose hope, I had an “annus horribilis” (that’s Latin for horrible year) too, in 2010, but God somehow helped me in going back on track. Our situations are different, yet I have experienced some of your tribulations and struggles, and still do. All the best from Romania, I’m with you. May you have a great 2013! Teo

  • mankul65

    Hello Nancy,

    Greetings from India.

    When I read your post,the following poem came to mind.
    Anonymous poem titled, “Don’t Quit,” might keep you from backsliding into quitting territory.

    Hat tip to Steve Borek

    When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,

    When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,

    When the funds are low and the debts are high,

    And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,

    When care is pressing you down a bit,

    Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.

    Life is queer with its twists and turns,

    As every one of us sometimes learns,

    And many a failure turns about,

    When he might have won had he stuck it out;

    Don’t give up though the pace seems slow–

    You may succeed with another blow.

    Often the goal is nearer than,

    It seems to a faint and faltering man,

    Often the struggler has given up,

    When he might have captured the victor’s cup,

    And he learned too late when the night slipped down,

    How close he was to the golden crown.

    Success is failure turned inside out–

    The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,

    And you never can tell how close you are,

    It may be near when it seems so far,

    So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit–

    It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

    – Unknown Author

    Our prayers and good wishes are with you.Here’s to wishing you a happy and prosperous 2013.

  • Nancy, You are a model of courage, and a powerful story teller. Your resilience on your journey is remarkable, and though we don’t know each other, I believe you will come roaring back. Yes. Yes you can!

  • Nancy,

    That’s an amazingly powerful story.

    If you’re looking for another forum to publish and regain positive momentum my platform is available to you…

    I wish you best.

    Hanley

  • Hi Nancy, thanks so much for braving sharing your experience with us. It’s painful to know of our fellow man going through such life changing experiences but your post is full of hope and I don’t doubt for a moment that, yes, you can !

  • Hi Nancy,
    First of all, thank you. I quote a journalist John Melchiorre” It’s always been an article of faith in journalism: Don’t tell a story about an idea. Tell a story about a person whose life and work demonstrate the idea”.Well your story is a demonstration of hope and faith and you’ll surely have back more of what you lost.
    About your social friends, social media are instruments and like all instruments created by men can be used in a positive or in a negative way. You can use them to isolate yourself from your family, your friend the world, or you can use them to know interesting people, increase your aknowledge, share interests, do things that you think, you feel are right.. It’s your decision, social media don’t decide anything they are only a great instrument who can help you to realize what otherwise could be impossible( help a person who is ten thousand miles far from you..). Sorry for my English but I’m still working on it

  • Dear Nancy,

    I had no idea, I am so sorry for your pain and suffering. I am shedding tears for your plight, for your sense of loss, for your bravery and courage to persevere and live to tell about it.

    Perhaps I can hire you to do some research for me in the company. If you have access to email and the internet (?), please let me know if this is possible. Or, whenever you do get to that point, will you please reach me? [email protected]

    Your writing, here and elsewhere (please consider a guest post at my house, too; I would relish having you) is your therapy, and it always has been. Don’t stop.

    With warmth,

    Jayme

  • Hi Alessandro,

    I have met some of my closest friends on social networks. There are good and bad people everywhere and I think the social web is no exception.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Thanks so much Matthew. I appreciate you taking the time to read my story.

  • Hi Ryan,

    That would be great. I would love that. I will send you my contact information late today.

  • Great… I look forward to it…

  • Thank you so much Bill. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

  • What a great poem. Thank you for sharing that. I certainly hope 2013 is far more prosperous than 2012. Thanks again for reading my story.

  • Hi Jack,

    It was incredibly hard to write. I kept writing the pos over and over. I even wrote it in my sleep.

    It was certainly scary to write but I am glad I did it

  • One thing I have learned is that no matter how bad things get there is always hope. Thanks for reading and connecting Teo!

  • RogierNoort

    Well.., there is a motivator if I’ve ever seen one… Thanks for reality check.
    And I hope, Nancy, that your year is going to be as magnificent as I plan mine to be (you too Mark, just for sharing this).

  • It’s inspiring to read your story, Nancy. I spent most of 2011 without a permanent address, hanging onto promises of employment that didn’t pan out. Really feeling that I had let myself, and especially my son down. There were times I didn’t think I’d ever dig myself out and even had (fleeting) thoughts of taking my own life (I never would have followed through). I can attest that the sun will shine again, as I’ve worked my way into a job I love, a city I love living in, and a great significant relationship with someone who has also risen from her own struggles. I’ll say I’m 90% “there” but there is still much room to grow, and I’m well aware things can change again on a dime. Thank you for sharing and stay in touch.

  • I am so sorry for what you are going through Nancy. I love reading your work at your blog and I must say I missed you terribly. But I didn’t know times were so tough.

    My prayers and good wishes with you. I hope things get better and so much better, much quicker.

  • Lori Witzel

    Mark, thanks for sharing this.

    Nancy, hang in there. I’ve posted to FB and tweeted it – you have helped me by putting me right back in touch with gratitude.

    What can I do for you?
    You can find me via @loriaustex – DM me and let me know.

  • Thanks for the inspiration Nancy. I don’t think I need to give this advice but I will, because I’m old and that’s what we do. Never give up, never quit learning and please – never quite writing. This advice is really just a reciprocal message because you gave us all that same advice with this post. Thanks again Nancy! Good luck and may God bless you and your son. I hope this is a much happier new year for you too.

  • Tabrijo

    Thank God you are out and may He strengthen you to be a source of hope to many out there thinking its all over for them.

  • Thank you so much Jayme. I will email you shortly. I got tears reading your comment.

  • Hi Brad,

    I can relate to all of your comment. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Thanks for taking the time to leave such a nice comment. Thanks for reading my story

  • Thank you so much Billy. At the worst of tines, we must never ever lose hope. Thanks for your comment.

  • Thank you so much Lori. Expect to hear from me shortly. I appreciate it very much.

  • Thanks Hajra. I missed you too. That blog became a family of sorts to me. I will be back soon.

  • Thank you Roger.

  • Pioneer Outfitters

    Nancy,
    You have never been out of my thoughts and prayers and really…I am SO glad you are writing because all you have lived through, endured and grown through… WILL help others. And not only people who have experienced or may be experiencing the same or similar situations.. but people who have so much inside them, so much pain and overwhelming circumstances of their own… You are an inspiration. Always have been and continue to be. (I missed you.)

  • Hello Nancy. I’ve seen those shadows, long and cold they are. I wondered if I would ever get out from under them. I did, you will. Changed I am, like you. Ah! it’s the soul and the spirit that you have that I admire. I wish you well. Billy

  • Well said Billy. I agree totally. Thank you for such a great comment.

  • Thank you so much. It means a lot to me to read comments like yours Amber.

  • Yuhannes Watts

    One of the best post I’ve read. Thx for sharing your life, challenges and formula to success.

  • mankul65

    Nancy,
    Could you please post your expertise publicly.i have always felt that time will come for reverse outsourcing,meaning India might start outsourcing work to America once the cost dynamics sort themselves out.
    All the very best.

  • Phil

    Can someone out their hire a talented blog writer in Nancy, she deserves better and will give her best by the sounds of it! I went through tough times as children simmer to her story and she is totally a strong person who I believe will help people in the community. Keep on believing, have faith & hope, stay positive, stay strong, have no fear and just do it!
    Wish you all the best Nancy in 2013.

  • Wow, Nancy, that’s an amazing story. You never really think of homeless people as “people who were otherwise well employed and doing just fine”. I give you tremendous credit for surviving, for keeping a positive outlook and for sharing it out loud. I noticed you’re in New Jersey – so am I. Let’s connect online and maybe even offline depending on where you are. We sometimes need an additional pair of hands in our marketing business. As I’m sure many people can relate, these are not the best of times so there isn’t always as much or as well-paying work as we’d like but if I can help I will!

  • I love the Carpenters. LOVE! Mr. D makes fun of me for it. Whatever.

    I’ve been down this road with you the entire time and I’m VERY proud of how you’ve picked yourself up and started over. I mean, completely over, not over in the way someone gets laid off or fired, but all the way over. I know it’s been rough with D and not being close to him, which adds another layer of stress.

    Love you tons!

  • Jackie

    Hi Nancy,
    Thanks for being brave enough to share your story! Very inspiring. Stay strong and keep writing, as I am sure you will get back on your feet again.

  • Thanks so much Jackie. I appreciate the encouragement

  • I love you too! I could say more but then I might need a tissue. I love you . When are you coming to visit?i

  • Thanks Al! Expect to hear from me over the weekend. Big hug!

  • I would love to Carol but I am not in New Jersey any longer. I am unfortunately part of a large population that are homeless for no other reason than lack of work.

  • Thank you very much Phil! Thanks for taking the tine to comment.

  • Thank you so much for reading it. It means a lot to be

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  • Well I’m still available to connect online and if there’s anything I can do to help you get work, let me know.

  • Very touching story Nancy, thanks for sharing it and keep up the good work!

  • Very good article. I’m a single parent and veteran who is unfortunately about to become homeless for a short time. I do wildland firefighting during the summer and unexpected bills this winter, so I’m heading to the Salvation Army tomorrow or Wednesday.

    It’s disappointing and upsetting on a ton of levels. I have a great military record, I’ve just had difficulty finding a good place where I fit in as a civilian. My daughter deserves better – she’ll get it too, this is just a setback.. I’m not much of a blogger, more of a startup guy with my project at NE1UP.com.

    So anyway, this is a good post, I’m a bit freaked and also determined. And worried. LOL.

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  • fernando

    nancy i read your story and i can say that i know what it is like to feel lost in a world where most people turn away from you i have been homeless many times in my life and all i get from people that know me is comments like you need to stop living your life this way or you need to stop being lazy and get a job. nothing can be farther from the truth i have just had alot of issues getting and keeping work for various reasons. for one thing i have a learning disability so i never got up to a high school education because it was so confusing i got overwelmed with school and gave up. that lead me into the job market where its very hard to get any decent jobs if any without an education. I feel so useless i tried to teach myself the math and bear essientials for college but have been unsuccessful. I cant even keep a job in a fast food restaurant because i dont do well working in a kitchen. Im 27 years old now and have been in this shape sence i was 18. well i did like your story mine isnt great mabe one day my life will change yet i dont see how when i failed at everything.

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  • arturo brown

    Hello Nancy my name is Arturo I’m 26 and Hispanic , I am writing this because I feel like you can relate in my troubled time and just need a friend like you i had a good job , I was a correctional officer and everything was going great , I was going to school and just happy and full of joy , unexpectedly I lost my job and from there everything started spiraling downhill I lost everything I couldn’t get help , I lost my roof over my head and my peace of mind , and this was recently this year , to make things worst it happened around my birthday , I’m struggling to make ends meet , this has happened to me when I was younger , but know as an adult it hurts knowing what you had before this dark time , I usually don’t put my business out their but I find your article full of hope and trust knowing that this won’t last all you need is faith in getting back up again if you would like to chat we can on Facebook I don’t have a twitter unfortunately my name on Facebook is Arturo brown :))

  • Victoria Makombe

    Hi Nancy, homelessness is the worst thing that could ever happen to anyone and the saddest part is when you cant share it with anybody , or even worse u dnt have anyone to share with. im in Africa and i guess its even harder to recover

  • Taneesha The Diva

    thanks so much for sharing your story I needed this this morning.

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