Homeless Grapevine Vendor Speaks Out

by Dinah Blake

        Homeless Grapevine vendor Marguerite Perdue has a message for Cleveland. She wants you to know that there is an urgent need to increase the housing options specifically for single women who are struggling to make the transition from homelessness to self-sufficiency.

        Growing up in Cleveland, Marguerite had "a pretty good child life." She was adopted into a loving family when she was five months old, and has younger brother. Marguerite went to area schools, and then to a community college for three years, and became a Certified Nurses Assistant and a Home Health Aide. She has two grown sons and a grandson. Although, her father was killed in an accident at the PepsiCola Bottling Company when she was eight, Marguerite is proud that her family was never on welfare. She has never lived in low-income housing, has always had her own house, own apartment, own car.

        About ten years ago, Marguerite lost her Nurses Assistant license, and began attending school and working at factory jobs through some of the area temporary employment agencies, while waiting to become eligible for re-certification in 2000. She was self-sufficient, living at the Jay Hotel where she was renting her own room. She obtained the room with the help of a social worker at the Salvation Army and either emergency assistance or a CEOGC voucher.

        And then everything fell apart.

        Marguerite became homeless about a year and a half ago. On a day that her rent was due, she called the landlord to let him know that she was at work and that she would pay him at the end of the day when she got home from work. But when she arrived back at the hotel, she found a lock placed on her door. Paying $35 rent for the day (because the room could have been rented that day), a $15 fee for packing up her possessions, and a $1.50/day storage fee was more than she could manage, so she left and the landlord kept her possessions. "I don't understand how [the landlord] took all my stuff like that. The Jay is really not a bad place. It's the best place there is, but I had just got everything together. He knew I was working."

        Marguerite moved back in with her mother until her mother got sick and was unable to walk, which made it necessary to let a cousin buy the family's house. Marguerite's mother went into a nursing home, her brother moved to Detroit, and Marguerite moved to Akron, where she stayed at the Haven of Rest Center shelter. She was able to make arrangements to move into an apartment for single women next door to the Haven of Rest, but shortly before she was to move in, her mother went into respiratory failure. Marguerite immediately came back to Cleveland to be with her mother. "Since my cousin got the house, ever since I came back here from Akron, I've been homeless. I mean, I called all the shelters. There's nothing for a single woman. No where, nothing, ever. No rooms. No nothing, and that's basically the way it is."

        Marguerite has explored most of the housing options available to her. She has been to three Ohio counties in order to get shelter, but now it is imperative for Marguerite to stay in Cleveland; she needs to be near her mother at the nursing home. Marguerite feels she needs to live close enough to the nursing home to stop in every day. She is afraid that she won't be contacted immediately if her mother passes.

        Because she committed a felony some years ago, CMHA housing is not an option. An outreach worker found Marguerite a room at a three-quarter-way house run by the Community Re-entry program (prison reform) but, although the rent was only $125/month, she didn't feel that it was appropriate for her to have to follow the mandatory regulations and programs designed for the rest of the residents who were recently released from prison, on parole or on probation.

        Marguerite also tried getting a room at a hotel on Detroit and West 65th street. She went to the hotel one Thursday with $85 for rent in hand only to learn that the weekly rental cycle went from Saturday to Saturday, and she would have to pay $35/day for the two extra days. After having walked all the way carrying all her bags she was discouraged and left, realizing too late that she could have paid for the week and then spent Thursday and Friday nights in the womens' overflow shelter. It is difficult to get into the hotel, and having the money at the right time is hard for Marguerite.

        Finding trustworthy roommates to share housing expenses in rented situations has been difficult, also. Twice Marguerite has lost apartments because roommates didn't work out and the expense was more than Marguerite could manage on her own.

        Last summer, Marguerite went through a 30-day program for drug rehabilitation at the Hitchcock Center for Women. A week before coming out, Marguerite was promised housing at Transitional Housing, Inc., but two days before she was released, she was told there was no space available. She made an arrangement to room with another woman who had been in the treatment program with her, but that didn't work out either.

        At that point, Marguerite began staying at Project HEAT site C, the women's emergency shelter at the First Methodist Church, (East 30th at Euclid). When she has the money, she also has paid a couple of friends $10 or $15 dollars to sleep at their places for a night.

        Marguerite believes that if she had dependent children, finding housing would be possible. "Women with children, they've got it made," she says. "But I'm not going to have kids just to get someplace to live." She also observes that too many people are no longer able to cope with societal pressures. "Half the population is taking psych meds because they can't cope with life. You just have to cope. That's all." Marguerite refuses to let that happen to her, even though she admits that she has considered giving up and signing herself into a psych ward just to have a place to live and convenient meals.

        Lately, Marguerite has been selling the Homeless Grapevine, and working for $6.50/hr as a machine operator at a factory in Strongsville-a job that she got through Minute Man Temp Service. Work there has been slow, however, because of the holidays and the recent bout of inclement weather. Although her training is for the health care industry, Marguerite can do any kind of factory work. She can drive a tow motor and weld, or do any kind of assembly work. But what she likes to do is the nursing. "Without a permanent residence," she points out, "how can you find a permanent position? I can get a job, but I need a place where I can take a shower. You can't, being homeless, deal with all that and be expected to get up and go to work everyday."

        Marguerite hopes to find her way out of this Catch-22 by landing a live-in position as a home health aide. She came close recently, but lost the opportunity because she didn't have enough money for the required uniforms, shoes and a stethoscope.

        "If I could just find a room for myself-an efficiency-I do not make enough money. Mostly, the landlords want first month's rent and a deposit. I can't come up with that. I have to eat every day to survive. Wash my clothes. There's no way I could do it."

        "They should open up something, a rooming house for women just like they do for men, you know what I mean? Because it's really hard. A single woman can't get a place to live." Marguerite would like to see someone open up a house, rooming house or boarding house for women. Even a three-quarter way house like the Community Re-entry ones would be of help, but one without the mandatory rules and restrictions that are necessary for the residents in those situations who are making the transition from prison to life in the community.

        "The housing-that's the main thing," Marguerite insists. "Somebody needs to-not needs to, but it would be appreciated if somebody could try to come up with some kind of solution that would help single women. The single men have everything. They've got VOA, they've got St. Herman's... there is no place that is suitable for single females."

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 32 February 1999