midlife crisis, literally: what would you do?
February 21, 2018 9:26 PM   Subscribe

Any recommendations for a 47-year-old college-educated female who spent the last 10 years being supported by a boyfriend--who suddenly found herself homeless with no credit, no work history, and no car who's been living on very meager savings since May? I'm running out of options and seriously need some advice.

As you can imagine, this has been catastrophically difficult for me: I've been alternating between sleeping in hostels, homeless shelters, on the beach, and cheap motels I've had one stay in the hospital for dehydration and a nervous breakdowns/depressive episode, which resulted in a two week mental hospital stay. Does anyone have any options or advice on how to get back on my feet again? Do you know of any long-term programs where people can work for room and board? Is it possible to get hired as a live-in housekeeper without experience?

I've applied for jobs related to work I used to do and tried to find an apartment, but the combination of no car, no credit, no home, and no measurable work history has made it almost impossible to get re-established. All my belongings fit in a daypack, I'm alone, scared, and one robbery away from being absolutely destitute.

For what it's worth, I don't drink or use drugs, and have a Bachelor's degree in philosophy and two years of graduate school. Ironically, I've been able to keep an unpaid DC policy internship where I do research remotely, but given my age and circumstances, I doubt I can turn it into anything compensated. My mobility and health are good for now, but I seriously need some help and advice.

If you were me, what would you do? Your suggestions don't have to be limited to any particular area in the US: I have enough money to get a Greyhound ticket to any city that seems promising. Thank you so much!
posted by aquafortis2 to Human Relations (22 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You've probably thought of this, but have you looked into whether you have any common-law marriage rights in the state where you lived with your boyfriend? It could ease your burden a bit.

Do you have any teaching experience? I know several people who have done teach abroad programmes to build enough of a base to start over. I know a woman who in her 50s moved from the midwest to Macau to build a cushion (and life experience).

Otherwise, hotels and caretaking both come to mind as jobs with live-in benefits.
posted by frumiousb at 9:55 PM on February 21, 2018 [9 favorites]

I'm sorry you are going through this. Do you have any family anywhere in the country who could help you with temporary housing?

Seasonal and tourism-related work sometimes provides room and board. Here is one example.

Are there any women's shelters in your area? They might be able to help or to direct you to better resources.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 9:56 PM on February 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Sounds like you need to get some cash just to get stabilized for now. That means applying to jobs where you may not necessarily be planning to build a career. It sounds from something else you posted (although not so much this post) like you may be in NYC--Costco? Target? The other big boxes at E. 116th St.?

With employment in hand, you could consider applying to the Webster Residence, which provides room and board in a dorm-style setting for women at a sliding-scale rent.

(I wouldn't come to NYC if you're not already here, though.)

Not being judgmental, but presumably there is some other very serious issue that left you unemployed without even credit for the past ten years. Whatever it is, it is probably something that needs to be addressed, too, if your situation is to improve, as it must be interfering with your employability and maybe even your ability to find housing.
posted by praemunire at 10:11 PM on February 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

Do you feel physically/emotionally up to doing something like being a live-in (or even not live-in) caregiver for someone elderly or disabled? I have seen ads for jobs like that where the person is willing to train someone and if being a companion is part of the job at all, your age and education might give you a leg up in a way that it wouldn't for housekeeper jobs.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:26 PM on February 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

You have hit a rough patch. It may not seem like it, but 47 is still young. Put whatever savings you have left, in a bank. Get snap benefits, so you can eat. You have a right to live even if your partner has hurt you.
posted by Oyéah at 10:55 PM on February 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

Are you in "the system"? If you have no income, SNAP will give you $192/month. You'll have to be creative if you have nowhere to cook, but at least you won't be depleting your savings further to buy food. This site is a directory of free and low cost benefits. I am housed but long-term unemployed, and it has saved me hundreds of dollars.
posted by AFABulous at 11:48 PM on February 21, 2018 [16 favorites]

Cruise ships, farms, summer camps, fishing and hunting lodges and camps, resort hotels that have living areas for housekeeping staff (a lot of ski resorts for example).etc all provide living space. If you're willing to do house keeping, female, English speaking and responsible you can get a house keeping job. A lot of small motels provide living space too for staff. If you're west coast pot grows hire people during harvest and usually provide room, board and rides as not of their staff are drifters of one stripe or another. There's kind of a circuit, if you go online to forums for people who travel, like the old Phish forums, you can find some good tips, rides etc. Obviously be careful.
posted by fshgrl at 12:23 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Since you have been treated for mental illness, you may qualify for the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. Unfortunately, the process takes a long time, but they can give you job training to help make up for the lack of recent work experience. Sending well wishes.
posted by Eevee at 1:03 AM on February 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

Your question suggests that you have a lot of cause to be hopeful. You have some great resources: your education, the fact that you don't have any substance dependency weighing you down; you are clearly intelligent and willing to make changes. This is the beginning of something amazing.

In terms of work, I'm not in the US so I don't know how useful my ideas would be. I have done some online copywriting work, which the quality of your writing suggests you could do with ease, but perhaps getting enough internet access would be hard. You wouldn't need an address or references or anything like that to do it, and there are lots of websites through which you can do it.

I would strongly advise that you feed your mind, because everything you can invest in yourself will give you more to spend in the direction of sorting your life out. If you can, take a little time each day to contribute to somebody else - this could be voluntary work, or something as simple as helping an old lady with her shopping or smiling at someone who is sad. This will benefit them, of course, but it will also remind you that you are valuable and that you have something to give. This will be like rocket fuel when it comes to that moment of trying to decide whether to take that plunge and apply for a job or an apartment or whatever.

Fill your mind with as many good ideas as possible. Find a public library (if you're in NYC I'm sure they're everywhere) and put aside a little time each morning to read something that lifts you up. This could be a religious book or Chicken Soup for the Soul or Anne Frank or some philosophy you loved at college or a great novel - just something to nourish your mind and get in the right place to face the challenges of the day. Think of it as the training you need to do for the marathon you're embarking on.

As I've been writing, it has occurred to me that you have already recognised and taken action in the most important direction: GET A COMMUNITY AROUND YOU AND DRAW ON THEIR RESOURCEFULNESS. People you come into contact with will provide ideas you can never think of on your own; and people freakin' LOVE to help (see any question ever asking for help on metafilter). Put yourself in proximity with as many people as possible: community groups, religious groups, non-religious groups, any-kind-of-groups. Be humble, reach out, ask for help. You'll be amazing by the opportunities that present themselves when you are honest about your vulnerability.

Whenever I've heard stories like yours, the miserable part always seems to end with, "And then I met this amazing person who told me / taught me / offered me..." And one day, you will pay them back in some extraordinary, unimaginable way.

I don't know why, but I have a funny feeling that you posting this question is going to be a huge turning point for you. Good luck friend, keep us posted, and know that mefites will always, always have your back.
posted by matthew.alexander at 3:15 AM on February 22, 2018 [15 favorites]

If you are in NYC, if you stick it out in a women’s shelter eventually you will get housing. The shelters will also help you apply for public assistance, SNAP (food stamps), vocational training, and rent voucher programs.

If your relationship included domestic violence, you would also qualify for a domestic violence shelter (call Safe Horizons) which are smaller and a little less intimidating than the city shelters. There’s also mental health treatment onsite at these shelters. Domestic violence does not have to be physical abuse. Financial abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, or a pattern of coercion and control all count. If you’re not in NYC you can call the the national domestic violence hotline for information on shelters and resources near you. Domestic violence shelters nationwide typically have more resources to help women get on their feet and paths to housing than public shelters in a lot of states.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 3:33 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

One more small thing to help you save money right now. If you have Medicaid (which you likely qualify for) you can get a free cellphone through Safelink.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 3:36 AM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

If you have any experience at all, I would look into live in work (you touched on this already) for elderly people or maybe nannying. You basically need room and board straight away and i know elder care seems to be an area in high demand. I'm sorry for your situation, I hope you get some ideas here - let us know how it works out.
posted by Jubey at 3:53 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

You should start with asking a relative to put you up for a few months, until you find a job and are able to support yourself.
posted by Kwadeng at 4:18 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Along the lines of seven snowflakes' suggestion, you might look in to Woofing. Don't rule it out because you don't want to/can't do physical labor, there may be options doing other work (sales, cooking, accounting etc.). They provide a place to stay, meals and a sense of purpose. Use the trick of thinking how you would advise someone else in your situation. You may feel isolated but, sister, you are not alone.
posted by InkaLomax at 4:36 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Call some churches where you are. Many of them have discretionary emergency funds they can tap and they often know people in the community who can get people work. They won’t care what religion you are. I’m sorry you are going through this, hang in there.
posted by machinecraig at 4:38 AM on February 22, 2018

This won't help right now, but longer term, many people I know have got jobs teaching English overseas with quite good middle-class salaries, excellent housing and health care and low-ish taxes in places like Korea, Japan and other parts of developed Asia with a bachelor's degree alone. I am talking friends who were nearly homeless, destitute, or massively in debt becoming a middle-class white-collar professional basically overnight. Check out EPIK in Korea in particular; it is very structured, they train you and place your somewhere with some support and Korea is a great place to live - safe, clean, friendly and just a few hours from Japan, Thailand and loads of other great places. Your credit history won't follow you either, if that's an issue, and English teaching overseas is full of mid-career folks giving a new job a go for a while. I have done it for about twelve years now; send me a MeMail if you want to know more.
posted by mdonley at 6:11 AM on February 22, 2018 [6 favorites]

First, if you are in New York, you should probably go somewhere else. The cost of living is not helpful to someone in your situation. Take advantage of how cheap life in the midwest is. Compared to the east coast, it's shocking. I just looked at Zillow, and there's a 3br house for rent in the town I grew up in for $600. It's not a great neighborhood, but it's walking distance to a major commercial strip (restaurants, grocery stores, etc.), a slightly longer walk or an easy bike ride to downtown, and on a bus route to get anywhere else. Get a roommate, and you're looking at $300/month, which is only about ten hours a week of minimum wage work - very doable. By contrast, the cheapest room I could find in NYC was $800/month. I know the general argument is that you get paid more in NY than you do in Ohio, but I'm not sure how true that is at the lower end of the pay scale.

If you do find yourself needing a car, you can get one fairly cheap. I sold my old car, a '96 Mazda Protege, for $400 last summer to someone in a similar situation (re-establishing herself after leaving an abusive relationship and getting off drugs). That may sound like a lot now, but once you start working you should be able to save it rather quickly. It's not necessarily a down payment and monthly installments.

If you have any savings left, you should get yourself a secured credit card to establish credit. Just spend $10 each month and pay it off immediately, and pretty soon you'll start to see your credit improve.

Join a credit union as well. They're usually a little more lenient in terms of lending to members with bad credit. It's a little bit more of a human face than a traditional bank.

I know "work at Walmart" isn't generally good advice, but they do have a program called the Associates in Critical Need Trust that makes cash payments to employees who find themselves in bad situations. JCPenney has something similar. If nothing else, it'll build some work history and allow you to earn some cash.

I would also suggest looking for call center work. It's easy to get, pays OK, doesn't require any previous experience, and can lead to better stuff.

Best wishes.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:03 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've never tried it, but I've heard that signing up for one or more vacation house or pet sitting services can be a good way to stay somewhere for free. That could be a good short term fix while you look into long-term options.

Love the teaching English abroad suggestions--you have the educational background for it, and any reputable company will give you the training/curriculum you need to get off on the right foot. I've known a couple people who've done this and it really was a game changer for them. If you wanted to get started remotely to see if it's something you'd enjoy, one of my friends does Vipkid and can't say enough good things about it.

Also, if you're in a big tourist city, you might be able to work at a hostel doing cleaning or front desk work in exchange for a bunk. One of my friends lived in DC rent-free for like a year this way.

I know it's February, but to add to the list of temporary/seasonal jobs that handle room and board, camp counselor jobs could be an option if that sounds like a thing you'd enjoy.

This sounds like an unimaginably rough time, but like others upthread have said, we're all rooting for you, and you've got a lot of space to turn it all around. Good luck--you can do it!
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:05 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Have you checked with career services of your college/ university? Sometimes they offer resources to their alumni.
posted by oceano at 9:05 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Memail sent.
posted by machinecraig at 9:10 AM on February 22, 2018

I know the general argument is that you get paid more in NY than you do in Ohio, but I'm not sure how true that is at the lower end of the pay scale.

This may well be moot, as OP may already live elsewhere, but, just to provide the information: the minimum wage in OH is $8.15/hr. The minimum wage in NYC is on an escalator to $15/hr.

Additionally, if you've never tried to manage as an adult without a car, I would be very cautious about assuming that transit will necessarily get you where you need to go in any given town. I think the average person who's usually had a car has simply no conception of the logistics that can be involved, especially because having a car allows one to be oblivious to frequency and reliability of transit service (or whether sidewalks even exist). "There's a bus route" can mean a bus that only runs for twelve hours a day every half an hour and requires lengthy connections to get anywhere, like a job or a doctor's office.

OP, it's one thing to move to a job, but I would be otherwise leery of dropping myself in a community where I didn't already have some social connections and without good transit. A lot of the inner suburbs these days are absolute traps for the poor, with few jobs and less ability for people to get to them or to other essential services.
posted by praemunire at 11:14 AM on February 22, 2018 [9 favorites]

Cruise ship jobs: must be physically fit, (up to 11+ hour days), no arrest record. Fluent english, additional language(s) helpful.
There's a wide variety of jobs on board, including instructors for skills classes. Just be able to sell yourself.
Save your pay for use between cruises.
posted by IpsoFacto at 1:18 PM on February 22, 2018

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