Parallel Universe: the ‘Ya-Hoo Day’


I want to tell you a story about a deceptively familiar place where securing the basic necessities of life, health care, housing, transportation and communication, requires persistence to overcome one obstacle after another. I call this place “The Parallel Universe.”

Today was a Ya-Hoo Day. Trila* started with a list of errands to run and by mid-morning we were done. Her Social Security (SSI) check is automatically deposited in the bank on the first of each month. As we left Fifth Third, she pulled five white envelopes out of her green handbag and systematically put the correct amount of cash for each obligation in its envelope: Rent; Electric; Washer (monthly payment – used); Patricia (nibbling away at repayment of an emergency loan, a story for another time); Family Dollar (pet food; cigarettes; non-food items such as toilet and towel paper).

Trila is committed to paying the bills first and on time. Rent is due on the third of each month and starts the process. There are five stops on her bill-paying circuit, an easy 45-minute round trip in a vehicle. But here in The Parallel Universe without a check book, credit card or vehicle of her own and public transportation unreliable at best, ‘Houston, we have a problem.’

Trila has few options: she could walk pulling a small wagon to carry her purchases and fold-up chair so she can sit down when the pain in her legs and back becomes unbearable; she could hire a cab for $7 per pickup. She is trapped between walking 15.4 miles, much of it without sidewalks, and riding in taxicabs for $56 in fares. According to, a healthy adult can walk three miles an hour – pulling a wagon and stopping to rest, a person walks a fraction of that distance in an hour. Even at “top speed” walking the round-trip bill-paying circuit will take a minimum of five hours; using the taxi might cut it down, but a long wait for the cab to show up at each location is normal.

To meet the financial obligations of living in her own place, five and a half percent of Trila’s monthly income goes for transportation, and the month is just beginning. Trila faces the same dilemma each time she wants to “go to town” to visit the library or the Free Store or the city park.

Every few weeks I receive an envelope stuffed with handwritten diary-type entries composed on lined notebook paper. The following is from Trila’s entry the morning we made our first bill-paying circuit.

“We are getting rain probably going to be more worms out later. I’m glad to get Bills payed; you help out a lot. If I took the cab it would cost me $56.00 to go to the places you took me to. You saved me a good bit of money. Thank you.”

* To protect their identity, Trila is a composite of several women. All the stories are true and describe my experience as companion in each case.

Patricia Thomas has volunteered as a lead hostess at Hope House for nine years. Currently she is experiencing firsthand the numerous obstacles the homeless encounter as they attempt to get off the street.

No posts to display