My Homeless Experience: The Spark that led to a more fulfilling life

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Dove Bennett — CEO and Serial Entrepreneur

Depending on the circumstances, moving to a new state can be scary, exciting, adventurous, or anxious. For me, it was all of the above. When I moved to Charlotte in March of 2018, I was excited. Being a Veteran and in a very dysfunctional relationship, I had lived in 6 different states prior to relocating to North Carolina and I just knew this would be my last major move. I arrived in Charlotte 4 months pregnant with not much except for a large amount of excitement. Unfortunately, that excitement quickly faded when June 2018 came around and I found myself pregnant, in Nursing school full-time and with a two-year-old toddler, oh yeah, and homeless.

But like I said before, I had an image to uphold. So, we slept in parking lots at night, showered at the YMCA in the mornings, and went on about our day. My tuition only covered 2 uniforms and since I was pregnant, I decided to get my uniforms in two different sizes so that I’d have a larger size readily available when the time came that my stomach outgrew my scrub top. Unfortunately, this also meant that I wore the same uniform five days a week. Normally this wouldn’t matter much… except for when you’re homeless… and pregnant… and it’s 100 degrees outside (thanks a lot global warming). So now I had one issue to figure out. How do I keep my uniform clean when I’m living out of a van?!

I spent 6 months perfecting the art of homelessness.

Learning where we could sleep that was open 24 hours without getting harassed by management or police. A place that also had restrooms in case I or my children woke up in the middle of the night with the urge to relieve our blatter.

Shattered Cookie

Desperate for shelter, I took myself and my two-year-old son to the Salvation Army. My caseworker at the Veteran Administration had told me that they would likely be my best option for obtaining a bed. The moment I walked into the shelter my heart dropped. The floors were dirty, the staff stood around gossiping and there was an awful smell that scorched the hairs in my nose. This wasn’t my first time in a homeless shelter, nor my first time faced with poverty, however exposing my son to that environment caused me to view it through a completely different lens. I walked up to the lady at the front desk and let her know why I was there. Due to my shame, I tried to whisper to her that I needed a bed for my son and I. Logically, everyone in hearing distance likely knew why I was there, particularly because most were there for the same reason, yet my embarrassment still consumed me. I didn’t believe that this should have been happening to me. The lady at the front desk, we’ll call her Kerry, informed me dispassionately that all the beds were taken and that I’d have to check back every morning to see if anything opened up. The sadness on my face was impossible to hide as I held back tears at the thought of returning to the van that was currently our residence. As I turned to walked away, Kerry stated that the shelter was just about to serve lunch, and she asked if we wanted to stay. My pride was nonexistent as I gladly accepted what could possibly be our only meal of the day, and I went and stood in the line that she pointed me to. After lunch they handed us cookies for dessert, and I begin to pack up so that my son and I could leave. I looked at my son as he stood next to me holding his cookie and singing Daddy Shark, and I whispered a prayer of grace to God, thanking Him that my son’s spirit remained unscratched by the ordeal that we were in. As we were making our departure from the shelter, Kerry stopped me yet again. She told me that they keep diapers and wipes in storage for mothers and asked me to wait while she went and got some for me. As we waited, my mind had wandered so far off that I hadn’t noticed the boy that had approached my son. He looked to be a few years older, and unlike my son, I could definitely tell that the pain and struggles of life had influenced him. The young boy reached for my son’s cookie and tried to remove it from his hands. Before my brain could process what was happening, my son’s cookie hit the floor, along with his heart, and shattered into tiny pieces. The young boy responsible for the upheaval looked up at me, smiled, and turned and skipped away. I made eye contact with my son and at that moment, time stood still. At that moment, on my son’s face, I saw everything that I had hoped to protect him from. I saw the pain that he felt from having nothing that he could call his own. I saw the confusion that I had overlooked every time he was told to get into his car seat at night so that he could go to sleep. I saw the discomfort that he faced from being potty trained in public restrooms. My son’s spirit was not at all unscratched. He had simply inherited my ability to project a happy and unbothered image, when on the inside all hell was breaking loose. My son immediately began to cry, and I counted each tear that fell from his eyes. As I felt my world caving in, I began to wonder how I had failed so much as a mother.

August came around and it was time for my little one to come out. I eagerly awaited the day so that I could finely be presentable enough to secure employment. I went into the hospital on August 22nd and went under the knife as the doctor cut me open to remove my newborn baby boy. Three days later we were released from the hospital with no home to head to. We drove over to a friends house and I cried the entire way there. We got to her home and I just sat outside. Was I seriously expected to go back to sleeping on her floor three days after being cut open? And now with a newborn baby? Plus, this lady was really mean. I had hit bottom and there was absolutely nothing that I could do about… except cry. I no longer had the strength to plaster a fake smile on my face when her neighbors approached me eager to see the newest addition to my family. Ironically enough, no one seemed to care that I was crying. I remember having tears pouring down my face as people asked me what his name was. They actually looked past my tears as if I wasn’t important. Then they became irritated if I didn’t hold a conversation with them. No. I couldn’t do it. I told my children’s father that I couldn’t stay there, so back to the van we went.

For the next two weeks we alternated between sleeping in that van and in motels when we had the money for it. Until I got sick. I didn’t know what was happening, only that I didn’t have the means to do anything about it. I remember laying in the motel bed shivering cold, yet I was sweating. I had a fever of 105 and I couldn’t walk because the pain in my abdomen was too much. I laid in that bed for two days straight without moving. On September 3rd, I stood up from the bed and tried to go to the bathroom, and the second my feet touched the floor, what would equate to about a gallon of blood came pouring out of me. I knew at this point that something needed to be done, so I went to the closest emergency room.

I remember telling the nurse what was wrong and her trying to reassure me that bleeding was normal after giving birth. I pleaded with her not to release me because something was definitely wrong. After going back and forth with her, she decided to run some tests and requested that an ultrasound be done. When I returned to the room, she told me that I might as well get dressed because she was certain that everything was fine. By this time, I was feeling a little better and I could tell that they weren’t taking my concerns seriously, so I got dressed. As soon as I finished putting my clothes on, she came in and told me that I couldn’t lead and that I was being transferred by ambulance to the Main Hospital. The ultrasound revealed that pieces of the placenta had been left in my uterus from the ultrasound and that I’d need to have a surgery to have them removed immediately.

As they wheeled me to surgery, the doctor began going over what I would consider “the fine print”. He informed me that for the surgery, I would be so heavily sedated that my body would be incapable of breathing on its own, so they would need to put a breaking tube down my throat. I remember hearing his voice fading in my ears as panic set in. What if I didn’t wake back up. Not only was I a new mother, but no one knew I was here. Due to my situation, I had no means to contact any of my family. What if I died in this hospital, and no one knew? My thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of doctors being paged, patients speaking to loved ones, and beeps coming from machines. Would this be the last thing that I heard? Everything sounded so clinical, so unfamiliar, so uncomfortable. I felt the tears rolling down my face as the doctor went over all of the things that could go wrong during the surgery. I looked around the room to make sure that none of the doctors who performed my c-section were present. After all, they were 0 and 0 in my book and those odds didn’t sit well with me.

Thankfully I woke up the next morning, and though my throat was in burning pain from the breathing tube, I was at least in one piece.

On September 6th I was released from the hospital and on September 7th I went to a job interview. I dressed best I could and prayed that my interviewer wouldn’t notice my limp or ask about the 6-month gap in my resume. To be honest, it was one of the most memorable interviews that I ever had and I was hired on the spot. Next problem… they required that I complete three days of unpaid training on the other side of Charlotte. I remember contemplating if it would even be worth it. If I didn’t pass an exam at the end of the training, I couldn’t start the job. Would this be worth the risk? Using gas and leaving my children, including my two week old newborn, for something unsure. Well, I didn’t need it to be easy, I just needed it to be possible. So I went to the training. Two days in the training and I was feeling confident that it was almost over and I could move on to the next step. That is, until our instructor came in and informed us that class would be postponed until the hurricane heading our way had passed. Oh the hits just kept coming!

So with class being delayed, I sat in our van at YMCA feeding my newborn when the winds began to pick up. Now one thing that terrifies me to my core is being in a vehicle during a storm…. and were I not already a Christian, this storm would have put the fear of God in me. So naturally, I did what I do best, I sat there and cried. It’s really a wonder that I wasn’t dehydrated at this point, I mean seriously, where was all this water coming from? The winds picked up and I sat and wondered how I got to this point. I had been so focused on trying to secure employment that I hadn’t looked into where we stick this storm out at. By the grace of God, hurricane Florence came and went and I was able to return to my employment class and pass my exam. On September 24th, I began work at Tranzact Insurance and this day was such a turning point for me. Of course I still didn’t have a home, but things were definitely looking up. Now around this time, I also ended the dysfunctional relationship with the father of my children, but unfortunately, that didn’t go over very well with him. He spent the next few months very angry and violent. But hey, not like things could get worse at this point.

On November 13th, after being homeless and going through hell for 6 months, I signed the lease on my townhouse less than 10 minutes away from my job. I had finally done it. I made it. Little did I know, my entire life was beginning to change for the better. Follow my stories to learn how this journey led me into becoming a full-time entrepreneur and creating multiple streams of income.

Author 💙 Publicist 💙 Producer 💙 Serial Entrepreneur. Find free marketing and entrepreneurship resources on my website. www.dovebennett.com

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