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Homeless

06/14/07 12:00AM
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(HOST) In the next hour, VPR will present a special report on homelessness in Vermont and the rise in the number of families who need services. One person who's experienced being without a home first-hand is commentator Michelle Kennedy.

(KENNEDY) It's been ten years since I spent a summer living in my car. It's odd now to think that there was a time in my life when I couldn't provide a home for me and my three kids.

When I make my coffee in the morning, I often forget that there was a time when I couldn't plug in a coffee pot. Or made breakfast on a stove instead of giving the kids a granola bar and a mushy apple from the truck stop near where I worked - and often slept.

It took me years to admit to anyone but my husband, whom I met while I was homeless, that I had once lived in my car. I was embarrassed that all of those choices I had made when I was young - choices I thought were so brilliant and so right - turned out to be so wrong, landing me in a small town in mid-coast Maine without any money, with no place to go, and my middle class life in shreds.

But when I finally went public - in a long essay in a national publication and then a book - I heard from people all over the country and the world, that they, too, had spent a year homeless. Or a couple of years. Or a month. Or knew someone who lived on a friend's couch. They were lawyers, college students, mothers, fathers, waitresses, writers and celebrities. Contrary to popular assumptions, I don't know of any that were disabled by alcohol addiction, or drug addiction, or mental illness. But all had, at one time or another, simply not been able to put together enough cash to get an apartment, house or dorm room. These were good, hard-working people who just couldn't pull together enough cash to get a place to live.

Every month now, I visit with men and women - some highly educated - who live in homeless shelters with their children. I talk with them about budgets and how to buy good food cheaply. I let them know that I still struggle with money issues too. We lament about the price of housing. Sometimes I just offer a shoulder to cry on - and let them know that homelessness is possible to get out of.

Sometimes I feel I can never possibly do enough. But I keep trying. I keep sharing what I've learned. And hope that it will make a difference - one coffee pot at a time.

Michelle Kennedy is the author of "Without a Net". She lives in Chelsea with her husband and five children.

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