In 2004, as her two children slept in the 1981 Minnie Winnebago they would now have to call home, Carey Fuller sat down to write her first poem.
"I don't smoke, I don't do drugs, I don't drink, and there's only so much gum-chewing you could do," she explains. So, she wrote. She wrote to find solace when things were out of her control and as a defense from her newfound invisibility. She wrote because she simply could not think of anything else to do.
This March, over seven years later, she self-published her work in a collection called "Writings from the Driver's Side," revealing the experiences she endured and continues to experience as a homeless mother.
Fuller was cast into homelessness after the birth of her second child, when she could no longer afford rent as a single mother. "Child support stopped seven years ago and that's how I lost my apartment, that and lack of affordable childcare. Without childcare, I could not go to my job and I couldn't make my oldest daughter stay home from school to watch her baby sister." Sensing she would soon be on the street, she used the last of her income -- a $2,000 tax refund -- to purchase the Winnebago.
As a homeless single mother with two daughters, ages 9 and 1 and a half, Fuller found she was completely alone. Through writing she not only found her voice, but she eventually found the courage to come "out of the closet," a term she uses to describe the isolation single parents face when they must live on the streets. "The only person I had to comfort me, was me."
Each day she faced a reality of sleepless nights and life on the move. She worked the midnight shift, printing newspapers for $8 an hour while her two children slept inside their old RV in the parking lot outside.
While her girls were at school, she job-hunted, and in the hours in between she drove her family from rest stop to rest stop, to avoid being questioned by the police or ticketed by parking lot owners. "Most of what I make is spent on gas," she explains. "This is how it's been for the last seven years and I have no idea when things will change."
Because she worked hard, long hours, Fuller eventually pushed herself past the point of exhaustion. It was then that she began getting hemiplegic migraines, a rare form of the headache that can cause seizures and temporary paralysis. As her medical condition worsened, Fuller was unable to work and eventually found herself jobless again.
In 2010, Fuller decided to speak out about her situation. Though she remained anonymous, she wrote a letter to Change.org author, Josie Raymond, called "What It is Like to be a Homeless Mother." For the first time she was able to voice the frustrations she felt toward a system that was not there for her when she needed it. She was able to break down stereotypes of the homeless and paint the picture of a reality that many homeless families face each day. "People don't know the truth about homelessness. Most homeless people lost their job, then their home. They have kids."
Homelessness among families is on the rise. The National Coalition for the Homeless reported that more than 600,000 families experience homelessness each year, citing poverty and lack of affordable housing as root causes.
In February 2009, President Obama addressed this impending crisis in a press conference, declaring that "it is not acceptable for children and families to be without a roof over their heads in a country as wealthy as ours." Then, in 2010, the Obama administration released "Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan To Prevent And End Homelessness." It is described by the Chair of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), Shaun Donovan, as the "nation's first ever comprehensive Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness."
The Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) assesses that 37 percent of homeless in 2009 were families. Again, housing costs were cited as a primary concern.
The FY2012 budget will provide "more than $2.5 billion to continue progress toward the Administration's goal to end chronic homelessness and homelessness among veterans and families, implementing an innovative, multi-agency strategic plan."
But Fuller believes more must be done. This is why she continues to call out to others who share her struggles each day.
"The only way to get people to do something about it is to put it in their face," she says. This is why Fuller continues to write, to spread her message to others who may be going through something similar, or who may not understand what homelessness in America is really like. She encourages other homeless parents to do the same.
Though she currently has found a residence with a friend, she struggles to find work and constantly worries she will soon again have to subject her daughters to life on the streets. Each day she reminds her daughters that they are still a family, knowing the negative impact homelessness has had on them.
She remains hopeful, however, that people will do the right thing. There were, after all, people who helped her family get by when they needed help the most. This is why she continues to help others like herself and hopes to raise awareness by breaking down stereotypes.
"It starts at home," she advises, "so take care of your relatives. Take care of your communities. Support your community first, donate to the food bank or to the homeless shelter ... If a collective gets together they can make change. That is what this is all about."