Five years ago, Kimberly Wells had it made in the shade. She had a good job, a nice place. And she had come very far.
She was abused as a child, shuttled through a series of foster homes. She found herself in an abusive relationship but got out of it, taking her daughter with her. As hard as all that was, she had a good marketing job and could handle the rest that was thrown at her.
And then it all just vanished because her job vanished. The company she worked for just up and closed in January 2009. No warning. No severance. No nothing.
At first she rolled with it. She went on unemployment and went back to school, studying to be a medical assistant. She got a job in a doctor’s office, making $12 an hour, half of what she made before. Things got tight. She couldn’t afford to keep her car, which made getting a better job that much harder. The stress grew and two years ago she had a breakdown.
When she got out of the hospital, she was way behind on rent. She had banked on using her tax return to pay the back rent but when the return was late she made some calls and found out someone had stolen her identity.
It took months to sort out. She got that tax return six months after she was evicted from her apartment. She had been clean and sober since 2002 so she got into the St. Francis House program that put her in a sober house and helped her find a job.
She got a job in the cardiology department at a hospital, making $18 an hour, but that lasted less than a year. She moved in with a girlfriend who had 20 years’ sobriety, but then her girlfriend moved to Georgia, and so, last June, she ended up at the homeless shelter on Long Island.
Every day, she looked for a job and an apartment.
“It’s tough,” she said, sitting in the Starbucks on Boylston Street downtown, across from St. Francis House. “A lot of landlords won’t take Section 8, and my credit is in the toilet.”
She said sleeping on Long Island was humiliating.
“The place smells like. . . ” She paused, looking for the right word.
“Feet,” she said, finally. “It smells like feet.”
Her only pleasure was feeding the raccoons on the island.
Then, last month, even that was gone when the bridge linking Long Island to the mainland was condemned. Kimberly Wells was on a bus on the way to Long Island when it was stopped and turned around.
She had a locker and a suitcase full of clothes on the island. She had her books, her Bible, on the island. A month later, her belongings are still on the island. What’s not on the island is crammed into two small backpacks she carries around with her when she isn’t on the computer at St. Francis House, looking for a job and an apartment. She was guaranteed a bed for only a month. On Sunday, that month’s up, and she doesn’t know what she’ll do.
On Monday, the city’s longest serving mayor — a mayor who cared deeply about people like Kimberly Wells — was buried. On Tuesday, we will elect a governor. And while so much attention is paid to politicians, both living and dead, Kimberly Wells and hundreds like her are wandering and wondering, what’s going to happen to them when winter sets in.
“I feel invisible,” Kimberly Wells said, staring out the window, as office workers hurried to lunch and Emerson College kids rushed to class. “I feel like everybody walks by, not even noticing.”