Contributor vendor Vicky’s writings on homelessness, poverty and family are often featured in the pages of this newspaper, and recently a story she wrote received international praise as she was nominated for “Best Vendor Contribution” by the International Network of Street Papers.
Last year, Vicky came to me with an idea: a five-part series on what it’s like to call a hotel your home. She and her son have been sharing a cramped hotel room for a few years, and she wanted to share her perspective as Nashville’s “forgotten homeless” – those hidden away from the public view in hotels without a permanent place to call home.
Her words were honest, raw and insightful. She interviewed her neighbors, wrote down their stories and wove them into her own.
It was so good that we knew it deserved our cover story.
While Vicky didn’t walk away with the award from INSP, her nomination – one of five out of 110 street papers – is nothing short of a major achievement. It is also beautiful that she officially refers to herself as a writer – because she is, and a good one at that. We are thrilled to celebrate with her, and she discusses her achievement below.
What did you think when you found out you were nominated for best vendor contribution?
Vicky: I was blown away! You could've knocked me over with a feather. I was humbled that The Contributor thought that much of my writing not only to make it their cover story but to enter it as a nomination. Then, for the INSP to put the story in their list of final nominations, I felt so much pride in the work I did. I know I told everyone who stopped for the paper about the nomination. I called my mom in Florida and she was so proud of me. During our conversation, I asked if Dad would be proud and she said, "very". It made my heart so happy.
I felt like I accomplished something really good, but also brought attention to those living in hotels that call it home. I also found out my neighbors don't like being woken up at 5 a.m. with a scream coming from my room because I got so excited when I heard.
What inspired you to write the article?
I was frustrated with having to pay these prices and have certain stigmas associated with living in a hotel. I became frustrated with programs that don't consider those living in a hotel as being homeless. A friend of mine who belongs to a church compassion committee also didn't see those living in a hotel as homeless. My heart would ache watching fathers coming in from working six days a week, sometimes seven days. I thought if people knew what we go through in these hotels that it might possibly change. Just because someone doesn't live in a tent or their car, but a hotel, doesn't make them less homeless. I wanted people to see the struggles of daily life in a hotel. I thought people really need to know so when they drive by, they don't look at the hotel and think that it's full of drug addicts and bums. I wanted people to see that's it not as simple as getting into affordable housing or Section 8; there are other issues that landed us in a hotel. I wanted people to know that we're here and we need help also.
What did you learn about your neighbors or yourself when writing the article?
I learned that they were just like me: frustrated and tired, feeling stuck with no help out there, no resources. I learned that we needed each other because that's all we have. We all grew closer and so many amazing things happened to everyone in the article. I learned that I could tell the story of people around me and what they go through. I learned that I could write.
What do you like about writing?
It's therapy for me. It helps me to get out what I'm feeling or others are feeling and putting it on paper. It also helps me to share the voice of others experiencing homelessness. I like that people comment on what I write. The feedback is so important. Not only does it help me grow as a writer, but it helps me see things differently. It also starts a wonderful conversation. New friends of mine, Lynn and Natasha, have gotten me some books about writing and I'm learning so much and hopefully improving.
People living in hotels are not included in Nashville's annual tally of people experiencing homelessness. Do you think our city sees people in your situation as being homeless?
No, their citizens don't either. Programs in Nashville won't help us because we live in a hotel and are not considered homeless. On some Facebook pages, people see us as "wanting to live there.” They see us as addicts and bums when some are really working to pay these prices. I think it's a crime that we weren't counted in with the homeless. What makes us any less homeless than others? We don't have a kitchen, a bedroom door for privacy. We try to make it feel more homey but it's not still not a home. I think Nashville should start to rethink homelessness.
Have you been able to find help to hopefully secure permanent housing?
The situation with us, as with so many others, is that it’s not as simple as getting on Section 8 or to qualify for affordable housing. I still have to pass credit checks, and with three evictions in five years, no one is beating down the door to rent to us. I made choices of food over rent, getting the car fixed instead of rent and a job loss where I couldn't pay rent. I didn't know then as much as I know now about the help out there for those living in a "regular" rental. We need a forgiving landlord in the Hermitage area on the bus line. That's a pretty tall order. I keep my mind busy with writing, making a scrapbook, my dog Faith and adult coloring books. I believe that God will present an opportunity to us that'll be right for us. Two years ago, we did find someone to rent to us in Lebanon but that was a bad choice. A month and a half after moving in, the car broke down and there's no public transportation to get Paul (my son) or myself to and from work. It ended again with a formal request to move out.
Why is it so important for vendor writing to be included in The Contributor?
The Contributor is a street paper sold by the homeless or formerly homeless. The Contributor is about the homeless, us, the vendors. My friends and customers have told me many times that the vendor writings and poems are some of their favorite. Who better to discuss and talk about homelessness than those who have or are going through it? I feel it gives new light to those reading it. I hope it makes the reader think, "Wow, I never thought about it like that." I encourage every vendor to submit at least two times a month. Those who say they can't write, well, I said the same thing.
You can read more writing from Vicky on her blog: ahomelesslife.wordpress.org.