Homeless with Dogs: How I Found Grace While Losing Everything
By: Eve Haslam
I don’t believe anyone comes to Asheville without a bizarre course of events getting them here. While visiting during the 1990s, I knew that I’d live, sing, and thrive here, but I had no idea of the details that would lead me here, unfold while I was here and, inevitably, move me away from here.
I packed my three dogs and the U-Haul in zero-degree weather the day before we left Vermont. After calculated planning and networking, I finally got the go-ahead on a place to live and a job, so we were off to a new life. The drive was exciting, and my Jeep hauled all of us and the trailer beautifully. After two days and a wonderful stay at the Red Roof Inn, we arrived in Marion at 4:30 p.m. and drove into our new driveway. Much to my horror, the home was growing trees out of a partially missing roof and the inside was basically uninhabitable. It sank in that I was in a strange land not knowing a soul. After 18 months of planning my move and seeing false photos of my rental 900 miles away (presented to me by a very lovely old woman with whom I spoke on the phone numerous times), I panicked hard. My body went into “fight or flight”, and I hysterically sobbed as we disappeared over the dark mountain towards Asheville.
Ten days later we moved out of the Red Roof Inn into a beautiful home with a full view of Mt. Pisgah. Two years seemed fleeting as I launched my consulting business and my jazz ensemble. Then, finding myself unable to make ends meet, we were evicted as the homeowner faced foreclosure; I had nowhere to go.
It was March, cold and wet. We managed to sleep in the Jeep a few nights, but it was obviously not going to sustain us. The cold wet winds, compounded with the fear of being targeted, kept me on my emotional toes about safety. Two nights were spent in the Mission Hospital parking lot. One night was so unbearable that I entered the hospital and asked a nurse if I could just borrow a few blankets. She was so kind and, without even knowing my dilemma, led me into an area where she pulled out two blankets from the warmer. I’ll never forget how hot and soothing those blankets felt to me and the mystical sense that ‘someone up there’ had my back, letting me know I’d get through this.
The mornings were spent going to the dog park for me to use the facilities and the dogs to stretch out. I often visited Westgate’s Earthfare for the free wi-fi so I could simply “pound the pavement” for work and a place to live. My headings were becoming well known on Craig’s List: “Homeless With 3 dogs”. I finally braved it to Social Services, although my pride held off for a while. There seemed to be a stigma for me that once I collected welfare or any help, I was doomed; the shame with that foreign concept was too strong. Ironically, I wasn’t eligible for anything but food stamps. The social worker was hard pressed to believe that I was living out of my car and needed proof. He was short on words and extremely grumpy. It seemed surreal that he was simply doing his job— just another day—and that he was emotionally dead to my shock about where I ended up in life.
Feeling scared and anxious became normal. I was straddling two worlds at once: keeping up appearances to the public while always plotting out when I’d eat, and where we’d sleep. My dear friend and owner of Moondoggies generously gave me dog food. Some churches offered $25 gift cards to Ingles, and Eblen Charities gave out gas vouchers if you hit them on the right day. One night, a friend with 3 cats let me stay at her home. Another time , we stayed with a friend of a friend in her single wide trailer and once we were allowed to stay in a very small room offered by a kind stranger. Another night, we stayed in an entire apartment that the renter had vacant. The stress of constantly being on the move, not upsetting people with my dogs, and constantly loading and unloading the car was minor compared to sleeping in parking lots. I was becoming mentally agile and strategic with prioritizing stressors. Like it or not, I was truly living on the bottom, and it was incredibly exhausting. Staying grateful and unassuming was key, yet I was becoming more and more taxed. Little did I know that bio-chemically my adrenals were becoming shot, and my nervous system was getting fried… I was circling the drain day by day.
Finally, I got a bite from an ad. A woman had an old store in an abandoned building, and we could stay there to be safe. No rent, just help clean it up. The condition was disgusting with dog feces everywhere, ripped carpets, garbage, and no hot water. Yet it was a roof and a relief as I could stash my stuff, use a toilet, watch a little TV, lock up, and go out for food. My friends and the YMCA let me use their showers, and things were starting to feel OK. One day I passed a church advertising a great band, so I wandered in and loved the whole experience. I spoke with the pastor and his wife who gave me blankets. I continued to go and attempted to make some chums. The truth is, just like the song, nobody knows you when you’re down and out. Some friends have a way of loving you when you’re doing well, but feel aversion when you’re down, as if they might catch it. Friends I thought I had didn’t receive my dilemma well and almost silently encouraged me to hurry up and get back on my feet so we could be friends again. One more reality I had to stomach.
Then one night I lost it. I was writhing in pain on the floor screaming out, “God I can’t take it another day! I give up!!” Too, too much for too long; I just couldn’t go on another day. That same night, as if the spell was broken by the primal scream, I got a call and the pastor had a place for me and the dogs. We were there bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the next morning as he presented to me a rent-free studio apartment so I could focus on getting back on my feet. The idea of a shower, hot water, carpeted floors was a palace. I was choking with gratitude.
Four months later, I needed to move out so the next family-in-need could move in. At the same time, I learned that my mom back in Vermont had a relapse of cancer and she wanted me to help her find a non-traditional modality. I moved mountains to get her the right doctor and researched every day until finally we agreed on a method. I had to move out, set up a new home for my stuff, and drive to Vermont to help my mom. Meanwhile, I was moving into a large home with a young couple. They helped me move into the downstairs and I managed to pay them the security deposit.
A week later, as I was driving through the Green Mountains of Vermont to pick up my niece at her college, I got a call from a stranger: “Hello, is this Eve Haslam?” As I proceeded to engage with this sweet-sounding woman, I was told, blow-by-blow, that the young couple had taken my money, moved another family into the house, told them to get rid of my stuff, took their money, and were now on the run. “I believe we’ve both been scammed!” the kind woman said followed by a very pregnant pause.
Six weeks in Vermont and my mom’s health wasn’t responding. My siblings resumed her care and I was heading back to deal with the unfinished business of needing another home in Asheville. My mom passed away on May 25th in the early morning. Her long time cat and dog companions were nestled with her, my youngest brother informed me by phone. I had one week to round it up again for another trip; the dogs and I hit the road for Vermont not two weeks after leaving there.
The family dynamics were shocking as the death of my mom revealed unpredictable greed and venom. I didn’t recognize my loved ones. I was forced to stay at a hotel in the next town over as the family members who turned against me occupied my mother’s home: the home that I shared with her for so many years, with the pets that I rescued and took in with her; the new home that she purchased 30 years ago and expanded with a hardy flower garden that I helped manage over the seasons; the home on a dirt road where I would never visit my mother, also my best friend, again.
I returned to Asheville two months after my mom’s passing. I cried for weeks over the turn of events with my family and from missing my mom who I was used to speaking with almost daily. I needed emotional support more than anything.
Yet, little by little my wellbeing was growing stronger and the tenacious support I received from my friend and holistic trainer saved my life. Today I have a professional coach back in my life helping me with my business and a savvy musician friend supervising preparation of my debut CD. I’ve moved into a beautiful little cottage 25 miles outside of Asheville where I can focus on nature, my dogs, and my work.
Inspiring others is my passion, and it has always been in my mind to write my story in brief to touch anyone who might be hurting and alone. The kindness of strangers and the promise that God does really have your back is what I intimately know today. Grace appears from within when we’re forced to surrender and is not something we decide to have after reading a good book or because we’re told to. It sits dormant in all of us and grows by default. It was having all my heart-felt beliefs wiped away in one fell swoop, asking for help, keeping up appearances when adversity was tormenting me, and falling to me knees that ignited the grace within me.
Eve Haslam is a business consultant & jazz singer. Her consulting reaches the entrepreneurs of tomorrow, from start-ups to expansions with an emphasis on the business model and systematization. Both services are available throughout North Carolina: www.evehaslam.com
Eve Haslam & Satin Steel Jazz will be featured at Asheville’s Frankie Bones Restaurant & Lounge performing the classics throughout the year!