You know me, I’m PJ. I’m a freelance writer, I have a dog and I live in Manhattan. In a matter of days I’m going to join the homeless. I wish I was kidding you, but I’m not. I’ve always acted like I was doing well, because, let’s be honest, no one wants to hire someone or spend time with someone if they have things going wrong with their lives.
It’s human nature. We all want to spend time with fun, happy, successful people. So for months, I’ve been pretending to be a fun, happy successful person to the world, and at home when I’m alone I shake with fear. Now my worst fears have been realized, and in a few days everything I have worked for will be gone. I’m going to end up on the streets.
This is my story. For the past nine years I’ve been living in Manhattan. I moved back to the city to pursue my dream as a journalist. To make my dream come true I wrote freelance articles for newspapers, magazines and websites. To make a living, to pay my bills I temped in offices. I’ve been an administrative and executive assistant. I worked in every field and I continued to write articles. I never made a lot of money. I learned, really learned how to stretch a dollar until it screamed “uncle.”
Financially it was tough. But I was pursuing my dream of acquiring a full-time job in my field and that made my heart and soul sing. Temping, depending upon the assignment was either a joy or torture. A joy because some assignments taught me so much about various fields, I had great co-workers, made friends and felt that I was a part of team. I assisted them in their goals, and I had fun too. Torture because I had assignments where the supervisors would call me names, throw things at me and treat me like I was brainless. I generally sucked it up because I needed the money. In the nine years that I’ve been back home in NYC, only twice did I ask to be replaced at an assignment. There’s only so many times when someone calls you an “idiot” that you can take.
I rent a two bedroom apartment in Harlem. I’ve always had roommates. Some roommates were amazing and we became friends. Some weren’t great, but they paid the bills.
I’ve never had a lot of savings; I’ve never had the fortune to travel. And I’ve never shopped retail. Almost everything I own is from a thrift store or free. You could say that I’m a savvy shopper!
So why am I in this place? Why do I have less than two weeks before I become homeless? Here’s what happened. Here’s how I fell down the financial hole. First of all, I don’t have any family. My dad died years ago, my mom died in 2006. It’s just me and the dog.
I had been temping steadily for years in addition to freelance writing. This past March I had a roommate who moved back home due to mental health issues In April temping started to slow down. I was able to cover March and April’s rent. I advertised for another roommate. I had a student who was coming to NYC for a summer internship. The student needed the room from May to August. The student said they’d take it. At the last minute, when I asked for a deposit, they changed their mind. I ran another ad and at the very last minute got another student who was going to stay the summer.
While that was going on, temping started to dry up. After my assignment in May ended, I had nothing for almost a month. I still had checks coming in from freelancing, but they were never more than a couple of hundred dollars, if that and I couldn’t carry my apartment and my bills on that alone.
The summer student decided to move out at the end of May. The student also stole from me. I temped for a week here; a day there, but nothing steady all summer. In July, a guy who was moving to NYC took the apartment. He was going to live in my place for a few months while he and his friend looked for a perm place to live. I was temping at the time. The third day that he was living here, I come home from work and find a note from him. He decided that he couldn’t afford the place and moved out. Oh and he never paid me deposit, rent, etc., the irony is, after he had said yes, I turned a few people down who were interested in the room because I thought I had a roommate!
It’s now August, and I am three months behind in rent. I’ve been able to pay down- mostly, my utility bills and have food on the table and that’s about it. In August, I get a roommate. I also get a temp assignment that lasts for a month. Things start to look up. I’m still past due on almost everything. Someone I know lends me money to pay off my past due bills in late October. For the first time in months, I no longer panic when I hear a knock at my front door. I get a temp job that’s supposed to last for six months. The job lasts two weeks. Not really thinking that the economy is going to implode the way it is, I’m hopeful that something will happen. Instead of my normal $17 - $20 temp jobs, I’m now offered one day receptionist jobs for $10 - $12, I take it. I’ll take anything.
In December, I agree to write a YA book for Penguin. It’s a writer-for-hire contract, a flat fee. I take it. I spend the entire month working on the book. I think to myself, the book’ll be done, and I’ll start temping again. I notify all 20 of my temp agencies, that I can only do one day assignments. Nothing comes in temping-wise, but I’m not worried. January starts the first quarter and I’m sure I’ll get something. During this time, my roommate gives me 4 days notice and moves out. I can’t find another roommate. I can’t get a temp job. I get my check for the book in late February and pay my back rent, a few utilities and that’s about it. The main publication I work for has slashed its budget; my check for February was $40. I have almost nothing let. After a screaming match with my ex-roomie, I send her $800, I owe her $700 for the deposit. I tell her that I can only pay $100 a month because of financial difficulties and will pay her off until the balance is done. I’ve been selling everything I own to raise money- not only to pay her back, but so that I can pay bills. 14 auctions netted me a little over $100. She’s now suing me.
I think today is the last day of my Internet access. I got a turn-off notice from the electric company. All my utilities are being turned off. I’m three months behind in rent. I have a hospital bill from February that has to be paid off because I hurt my foot. Does anyone want a slightly used cane?
I just got a job, but I won’t get my first check for another week. I wish it was enough to pay off my back bills, but it’s not.
To be honest with you, if I didn’t have my dog, I wouldn’t be here right now. It’s highly embarrassing to me to write all this down for everyone to see. I’ve always been independent and self-sufficient. I’ve had to be. I left home when I was young, due to an extremely bad childhood. I’ve always relied on myself to conquer things. Now I can’t conquer anything. I’m happy to get the hell out of bed and show up at work on time. I’m thrilled that I have a job. But I don’t have rent money, I don’t have money to pay the utilties and I don’t have money to take the dog to the vet for her Parvo shot.
In a few days I’m going to be on the streets. I feel like the reverse of that movie with Will Smith.
I hate to ask this of you, but can you help me pay my bills? Can you help me stay alive? I am so sorry to publicly lay my life out here, but I am frantic and don’t know what to do anymore.