Arlene Whiting, 54, is one of more than 500,000 homeless people living in America.
Whiting carries her belongings in a shopping cart, she says, pushing up to 100 pounds of her life each day though her Locust Point neighborhood. A new job as a Lyft driver allowed her to lease a vehicle through the car service company. Being mobile has helped lighten her load.
Sleep can come on a park bench, in a hotel or in front of a 7-Eleven for Whiting. During the day, she said she uses her computer to work on personal businesses and websites, spending hours at a time at Harris Teeter or Starbucks when allowed.
Life wasn’t always this way for the mother and grandmother of two. Born in Philadelphia, Whiting studied at Penn State, Drexel and Temple University, but couldn’t afford tuition. She entered the workforce and held jobs in various fields, but had a difficult time with the expectations of a 9 to 5.
“I kept having setbacks,” she said. “I could not move forward and I kept being unhappy in the entry level positions. I was not created to do that. I kept wondering why I was unhappy.”
In 2011 she became homeless, using benefits and grants to support obtaining an online certificate in media communications, she said. A friend introduced her to Paul’s Place—an organization in southwest Baltimore that provides food, clothing, health and shelter resources to low-income residents—where she made use of the organization’s computer lab and free hot lunch served daily. Paul’s Place staffers are currently connecting Whiting to long-term housing in the city, a process that’s taken more than a year to finalize.
“Anybody can become homeless at any time,” she said.
Travis Ridgway, a stable home case manager at Paul’s Place, agrees. Ridgway said that as technology changes, it can become harder for older adults to maintain their competitive edge and secure jobs in the workforce, making it possible to end up on the streets.
“One of the biggest issues in general is that you have an aging population that’s already in a lower economic status who is just increasing less employable as time goes on,” he said.
While she waits on housing security, Whiting continues to work on her dream of becoming an attorney. She said she simply wants to be treated with dignity and respect.
“I find it disrespectful when you think I’m homeless that I don’t matter. I’m a creative human being just like everyone else.”
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