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Te-Erika Patterson

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Why I Voluntarily Became Homeless

Posted: 01/23/2012 10:07 am

Hi! My name is Te-Erika Patterson and I am 32 years old. I live in Hollywood, Fla., and I am a waitress at Denny's. Besides being a single mom and a karaoke lover, I am in the middle of organizing a massive effort to get big businesses in America to offer employment to those in need. Why?

Well, it all began about a year ago when I was at one of my lowest points in life. I remember looking in the mirror and saying, "You are so failing at life right now." I didn't know what to do. I had just lost both of my jobs and my car all in one weekend and weeks later due to stress and anxiety, I dropped out of graduate school.

Sitting in my apartment, collecting unemployment, I had no idea what my life would become. For years I could see the brilliance lying beneath the surface yet, for some reason it wouldn't come out. It's a harsh reality to know who you are on the inside, to feel the person you know you can become yet you look around and your reality reflects the exact opposite.

Through a chance encounter with one of my blog readers who did a tarot reading for me, she suggested that I start a website to empower women. I had nothing better to do with my time so I took her up on her suggestion and my life changed forever.

Once I began this awesome work of sharing the wisdom I had learned through so many failures and setbacks, my heart begin to sing a jubilant song. I did the research to present the very best in local and federal resources to help women survive and I reached out to every woman I could find who had achieved their life goals and I interviewed them for my website. They allowed me to celebrate them as they shared their secrets to success and I felt a bit of their pride with each profile I posted. My vision grew bigger as I grew bolder in my work until one morning I woke up and heard my intuition say, "You will give away everything that you own and you will become homeless on purpose. You will teach women how to survive it all and face your biggest fear."

Yeah. I know. I wondered if this was one of those voices that people who wear straitjackets hear. The really crazy part is, after a day or two; the idea didn't seem crazy at all.

What if I could give away everything that I owned and become homeless on purpose? I have certainly been to the bottom and survived it before, why couldn't I do it again? I wasn't some 20-something control freak afraid of life, I had been there done that and had the t-shirt to prove it. If I did it this time of my own free will, and documented everything in video and in writing then the women who read my empowerment website would be forever changed. They wouldn't be afraid of losing because I will have taught them that they can survive and most importantly, I would teach them how to survive losing everything.

Being the risk taker that I am, feeling like there was nowhere to go but up, I contacted my landlord and asked to be let out of my lease. I then sent an announcement to a few people that I respect so that I could be held accountable for my decision to begin what is now known as The Rebuild Your Life Project. I spent a month setting my goals and reaching out for help.

My goals were to:

  • Demystify the homeless experience

  • Catalogue the mental strategies for successfully navigating an extreme loss

  • Report on the local resources available to the homeless

  • Organize a job fair for homeless women

  • Raise funds for a grant to help a homeless single mom with living expenses for 3 months

  • Raise money for a homeless shelter in my city

  • Raise money to redevelop my website into a community where women can come to support each other

My civil rights history lessons and admiration for leaders like Gandhi, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King Jr., gave me a remarkable idea and I was proud. If they could orchestrate something so great, why couldn't I? I had everything all lined up. I called the media and pledged that I would remain homeless until 30 businesses partnered with The Rebuild Your Life Project to offer employment opportunities to homeless women.

On April 11, 2011, I did it. I walked out of my apartment, carrying nothing but a small duffel bag, my tripod and my digital camera. I was officially homeless with nothing to run back to.
And from that very moment, absolutely nothing that I set up went as planned.
So here I am, five months after that horrific ordeal ended. I spent four months living as a homeless person trying to maintain my own sanity. I managed to meet most of my goals, but all of them had to be adjusted. I stretched my intellect and my strength to the limits as I fought one battle after another after another.

Thankfully, after I organized The Rebuild Your Life Job Fair for Homeless Women and Women in Distress, I was able to find a job as a server at Denny's. In fact, this particular Denny's restaurant was the first business to pledge their participation in my job fair for homeless women. Through my tips and wages I was also able to offer The Rebuild Your Life Rental Assistance Grant for Women, a $650 grant that was awarded to a single mom in Coral Gables.
I received no huge donations. I didn't receive any extensive media coverage. I survived the homeless lifestyle until I met my goals and then saved enough to move in with roommates. If it weren't for my YouTube documentary, no one in the world would even know I did it.

I felt like a failure because I did not meet my goal of 30 businesses for my job fair. In fact, 16 agreed to participate but only two showed up. I felt like I had unfinished business because I did not keep my promise to remain homeless until I secured 30 businesses for the job fair so I did the next best thing, I arranged a meeting with my district manager at Denny's and asked if Denny's would open their doors to hire women in need. After a lengthy presentation and haggling through the red tape, I was shocked to hear that Denny's was indeed interested in my idea.

On Dec. 20, 2011, 14 corporate-owned Denny's restaurants participated in a mass hiring event which offered on the spot job interviews for anyone in the community who desired employment. I was so proud to see that more than 100 people attended the hiring event with Denny's. I've been on pins and needles to learn the exact number of people who were hired but Denny's has yet to release this information. Even still, this success has sparked yet another goal.

What if I could get other big businesses to partner with The Rebuild Your Life Project to open their doors for just one day, in order to offer employment opportunities to the community that supports them? How could I get them to listen to me? A friend suggested that I contact President Obama to tell him about my idea and ask for his support.

Meet with the President of The United States to tell him about my idea -- why not? I have already gone through the process of losing everything and I survived it. I have no fear of rejection or failure anymore. Fire me. Laugh at me. Tell me I'm a loser. Look at me in disgust. You can't faze me. I'm immune to failure now. Why not take it to the top and see if a little black woman from inner city Miami could really make a difference with her grand ideas and fearlessness. If I lose, oh well, I'll just brush myself off and start again but if I win, this could be the break through that hundreds of people have been praying for.

 
 
 

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