Finding Hope And Healing While Homeless

Hello. My name is Nikki Noeller and I want to thank you for taking the time to read my story. This reaching out has taken a while since I am generally a very private and humble person and do not take joy in sharing hard truths. I find that in doing so I have taken on tasks that are bigger than myself and find it hard to take on alone. My healing is continual and will only continue with my participation. I am aware of this more then ever as I have a son who not only relies on me for his survival, but, learns how to overcome obstacles from the reactions I set forth to my own obstacles. Yes, I am a single mother who has found myself in a cycle of poverty and homelessness. I continue to fight and search for that stepping stone as I am confident this is only a chapter in the story my son and I share. We learn and grow daily and for that I am thankful to God for giving me the tools and strength I need for us to survive. You see, this cycle of poverty has not always been my story. I grew up in Chicago and after completing studies in graphic arts decided to fulfill my dream of crafting with my hands. I loved to build and carpentry was an easy skill for me as my father taught me many trades as an adolescent. I decided to go through the apprenticeship in the Carpenters Union in Chicago and became one of the few females to earn Journeyman status in the early 90’s when women were far and few in the field. Has been a source of pride for me for many years as I watched the membership of women grow eventually forming the Sisterhood of Union Carpenters. Life was good and I was fulfilled both creatively and monetarily. I’ve traveled this country building many of the corporate headquarters, malls, restaurants, and superstores still standing today. The job afforded me the opportunity to see and feel the energy in every major city to the hometown quietness of small town suburbia. My favorite part has always been the people I met along the way and the cultures their communities had to offer. I have always prided myself as being socially approachable and free of any social fears that might disable my ability to be a part of any community I seek to become one with. I guess that is why I find myself hoping for healing in this current situation as I started to find I do not recognize myself anymore. Many reasons and happenings have occurred where I found myself closing off the outside world and community I have grown to love out of fear of the unexpected. I know this cannot continue as I realize this behavior does not agree with my soul. My reason to fight..my son who lies here in my arms while we take shelter in an abandoned camper in the California desert. The rain pouring through the pop up roof and dry rotted canvas as the 30+ mph desert wind rattles the small metal cask around like a tin can. Why are we here.. why the camper..the desert? Those questions mull through my mind daily and through my healing know the answers. Those early decisions while grasping straws of survival I made a choice to remove myself from society as I thought at the time being isolated would keep myself and mostly my son who is Autistic safe from the harm some in society had to offer. Through my healing I realize I was wrong and have only further isolated myself from those who mean me no harm. Those who could relate or show compassion and extend a hand or encouragement. Part of my healing and forgiveness is surviving assault. It was most certainly not the first time, but, for one reason or another this last incident broke me and my spirit and has exasperated my delve into the darkness I am screaming to get out of. I grew tired and afraid. For some time have felt trapped in this weak body that feels foreign to me. That’s why I know this has to and will change with my full participation. For the sake of my son I will overcome this. I know I will overcome as I have hurdled much bigger mountains than this. As both my parents were almost simultaneously diagnosed with terminal cancer years ago I rolled up my sleeves and trained as hospice nurse to care for them while studying as an Apprentice for the Union. At the same time I had a marriage crumbling from a high school sweetheart who decided drinking was more important than participating in raising his son we created in our 13 years together. The dissolving of our relationship was a lesson of great despair for me as I had never been very educated on the trials and tribulations of alcoholism and was not prepared for the tools necessary for dealing with it let alone helping him. He had put me in the hospital many times. And while having a baby to care for I would listen to his cries for help and forgiveness and allow second chances. The last straw was when he attacked our infant son then turning on me when I used myself as a shield. The surgery’s needed to fix my nose, my jaw, and my teeth only cemented my resolve that I will never allow this to happen to myself or my son again. And I lived my life with that promise. I lost my parents. They succumb to cancer months apart from one another in the home I grew up in. The died in my arms. My Dad who was 6’3 and 230lbs healthy was 63lbs when he passed on New Years Eve to pancreatic cancer. My son had just been diagnosed with Autism and I was on my 6th surgery to fix my broken nose. My best friend and my older brother passed away of a heart attack while getting ready to board a plane from L.A. to Chicago to help in caring for my Mom so I could focus on caring for my freshly diagnosed son. Moms esophageal cancer spread forcing the removal of most of esophagus and eventually stomach only to be sent home with bottles of liquid morphine delivered to the end mirroring the way my Dad left this earth. While hanging onto sanity, my job, my studies, my child, taking care of two homes (my parents and my own) I had two other siblings who were delving into mental illness and using drugs. My hope was to move them into the home we grew up in and help in their rehabilitation as I felt it was my chance to make up for what I had not learned from my past marriage. This decision ended in a war between siblings over greed of inheritance which I did not and will not participate in. Their sickness wielded abuse to myself and my son and crossed a line I set a few years before with my ex. I left my childhood home and my hometown and haven’t been back since. Removed myself as executor and all deeds. My son and I packed our bags and headed out to Vegas as I took a job as a carpenter at the Las Vegas Convention Center to start a new life. I have not been back to that home since as my heart cannot and will not be broken or clouded with greed and sickness. It still stands and they still flounder as my contact with lifelong neighbors carries on and they share their dismay for what has become of the once beautifully manicured 2.5 acres the home sits on. Apparently the 4.1 million my Dad worked his fingers to the bone throughout his life as an inner city poor kid to obtain suits their needs. They never came once to help in the caring for their parents in their moment of need. I hope that money affords them forgiveness and clarity. I chose to seek my own through the same perseverance my Dad taught all of us kids. Only myself and my older brother who passed apparently were listening. Once in Vegas I joined the Union and got to work right away. Worked hard and made a name for myself on the Showfloor enough that I had to schedule contracts around each other. My son was exceeding all expectations in his studies and his diagnosis changed from low functioning to high functioning leaning towards Aspergers. Life was good. We were healing. The bad memories fading and most discussed as my son got older as learning moments. My hard work afforded me many offers to jobs that would relocate me and my son to take on big and upcoming projects. I mulled them over as I had a stable workflow with above average pay. The decision to move on came when my son was ready for high school and I was becoming dissatisfied with the public school system in Vegas and knew I could do better for my son. I was offered a job as a Journeyman Carpenter for the largest and top rated toy manufacturer of the world located in El Segundo, California. The decision was a weighing of pros and cons as I would take a pay cut and decrease in benefit package. The pro was that after extensive research the schools were far better prepared to handle my sons IEP and allow him to mainstream his academics and social abilities. I took the gamble. Packed a 26ft truck with the life I created from the two duffle bags we arrived in Vegas with. My gamble paid off most certainly for my son as he again excelled. He mainstreamed, mastered coding and robotics, landed on high honor roll, and found himself with a group of friends and girlfriend who accepts him as is as teases that they are “normies” while he has gifts. The move for my son alone has been a decision I will never regret as it opened a world of opportunity I (we) would not have known otherwise. For me the opportunities were not as promising unfortunately. That big company and the 5 yr contract I signed taught me to read the fine print as that contract protected them and not me. Eight months into my move and my contract they laid off 500 workers from various departments who were salaried employees. I survived that lay off, but, knew my time was coming as observing they were replacing salaried employees with temps and interns. One by one the creative department was replaced. Within weeks corporate brought in a fresh team of carpenters with whom we were to train as we were assured this was only done because of the workload while other departments were in transition. The skill and language disparity took a toll on a few and they seen the writing on wall to head for greener pastures. I stayed as I had no options. My job in Vegas had been filled and as I was working 90 hr weeks when I first arrived I had not networked or had a plan b ready. Eventually our hours reduced turning my job into project based gig work. And then the inevitable.. laid off with the option to return for projects with a drastically reduced pay scale (almost cut in half) with no benefit package. I declined only to find the out of work list at the Union Hall sitting at around 5000 members. With rents at 2k+ and my next months rent due soon.. when the call came for a project..I bit with tail between legs. I became the fix it carpenter for the damage the new breed had done to stage sets we built that travelled from stage to conventions across the country. Few weeks or days here and there. Never getting ahead and never set free from the gig economy. Hundreds of resumes and promises to withdrawal from union and take lesser pay to compete with right to work labor that never panned out or got me out of inevitable poverty with staying this course. To keep my son with the services he had in speech and occupational therapy through Regional Center and making sure he did not regress I spent thousands on Marketplace Insurance so we stayed compliant with mandate as well. Medicaid was always denied as I made only a handful of dollars more than monthly minimum. Sometimes only $20 more! Seeing the writing on the wall I called my landlord and gave a 30 day notice. We moved our belongings out of our Redondo Beach apartment into a storage unit and sheltered in the car. Did this for about a month til I found a garage to rent. Went back to work for weekly projects and gigs til I grew tired. My friends and coworkers offered suggestions and an offer arose from an old coworker from Vegas whom had started his own business in the Tradeshow industry. The offer was astounding. Union work with union pay. 40+ hrs a week guaranteed on showfloor and in shop. Offered to train as I advance to Project Manager as the inevitability of my gender and my age were staring me in the face. Again..I bit! The offer was to share a townhome with a man I called friend and his children I thought of as family til myself and my son save enough to afford our own home. I soon realized the offer was too good to be true and found I was bamboozled into caring for his kids, housekeeping, cooking, and nursing an abusive man who had a drug and alcohol problem that was completely hiding deep inside a man I thought I knew for years not only as a coworker, but, a friend. Within days of my arrival his disrespect turned into aggression and soon after aggression turned to violent assault. This was all done in front of my son and his children as well. I hadn’t saved enough to leave and displaced myself and my son hundreds of miles from Redondo I endured as long as I could. My son and I would huddle shaking in fear as the sound of dishes and obscenities flew through the upstairs kitchen when he was in rare form and did not get what he wanted. I kept my mouth shut and worked what little projects he had even traveling with my son to build at Outdoor Retail events in Denver. Promising my son I would get us out of this. When the Denver checks came in I made my plan of escape. On Easter Day of 2018 still confident I would escape this with minor damage he came home drunk and struck me so hard I was defenseless. When I came to and he was having his way I could hear the screams of my son and the punches to my aggressors back from my son trying to beat him off me. When he turned his focus to strike my son I fought to release his hands from my sons throat and subdue him til my son was in safe distance. I escaped that house with my face bloodied and barely dressed. My son and I went to the police department and the process needed ensued. We stayed in a hotel after my hospitalization and fought to make sure this man faces justice. With police escort I was able to retrieve my belongings while he screamed vulgarities at me the whole time. Yes he is free. His high priced lawyers afforded him a few days in jail and some counseling. He still operates a union company and even after filing grievances learned quickly that unless there are multiple witnesses the union would or could not pursue. The weight of my decision to put my self and my son in that situation when I swore years ago NEVER AGAIN it started to take a toll. When I realized there was nothing more to fight and the advocates disappeared into the next victim I felt alone and afraid. Started blaming myself. My fear of others progressed to the point I trusted only myself and my son as I felt I must have a deficiency in judging character as this was not a one time unfortunate experience in my life. This victim hood led to my decision that if I was to be homeless it would be on my terms and away from a society that could take advantage of my vulnerability while enduring this hardship. I knew that a tent city would be a way to network and find help by being visible, but, my fear over rode that idea. I kept this secret from friends about my story and most certainly my homelessness. Was convinced all I would endure from opening myself to that would be finger pointing. When I did reach out to very few my fears were confirmed and I retreated further. I found through mutual a man that had five acres of unoccupied land in the desert in which someone had abandoned a camper on years ago. At that moment it seemed perfect. No one could harm myself or my son as it would be 27 miles away from civilization. Little did I realize the gas to get to civilization would dry up what little savings I had before I could even find the help I needed to get out. Spent the last few months recycling bottles for food and gas still staying silent with friends while I compartmentalized what we had experienced. Being alone exasperated my grief and clouded my judgement. Still find myself struggling with this. I have since reached out for help and was able to get the proper counseling to help myself and my son make sense and stop the blaming/ victim hood and begin healing. The starvation and dehydration has taken a toll on my health and I have long term damage to my vocal cords that thankfully I finally qualify for medical help to help heal. I’m taking the steps necessary because I know my next big challenge is to get my son out of this desert and into a safe and loving home with me by his side..strong, healthy, and ready for life again. I wouldn’t be here without him as I hate to say my darkness was so overwhelming I might have taken myself out of the equation if not for him. I’m strong enough to talk about this now because I know unless I am real about my circumstances I will not be prepared to face them head on. I am ready to be a part of society. I’m ready for love, compassion, and acceptance and above all I am ready to give all those in abundance. I’ve learned quite a bit from this and quite a bit of the person I am and want to be. I’ve also learned how strong of a man my son has turned out to be and his desires for life and the characteristics of those who chooses to share himself with. The 10-11 months we’ve been in this desert he has worked out every day doing push-ups and sit ups on the desert floor. He swears he’ll never be unable to protect a female from harm in the future even when I contest that he was never expected to save me. That is his personal challenge that he is healing with. I must say.. he looks amazing and has become somewhat of a rock star in his group sessions. My hope in reaching out is that maybe just maybe I have touched someone who has overcome obstacles such as these and can offer themselves to others who have cut themselves off from society only because they were afraid and dealing with an underlying issue. I have left many friends feeling offended for my lack of reaching out while not knowing what I was going through. Sometimes the quiet or avoidance is a sign they need help. Reach out. If they don’t respond..reach out again. Shame is a terrible feeling and often times not the correct one for the circumstances. Those who feel it with a heavy heart feels as if they are protecting YOU from themselves. Break through that wall and help save a life. You won’t regret it. I’m breaking free as I write this and if you’ve read this whole thing..you are my witness. Thank you. I will be out of this desert soon with my son by my side God willing! If you find it in your heart to help me whether it be kind words, advocacy, prayers, or gas or motel money for warmth and a shower I can promise you that I will pay it forward in spades. I realize that God gave me what I can handle. Coming through this will be because others extended a hand so that I may step up on that first stone. In the future I hope I can be that hand for you if you ever need it.God bless all and again thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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Organizer

Nikki Noeller 
Organizer
Littlerock, CA
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