I am a 57-year-old advocate for domestic violence survivors, trafficking survivors, and the homeless and underinsured. I am also an abuse recovery mentor in several on-line forums, and a published poet.
I grew up in an upper middle-class family in Delaware. At 19, I married my high school sweetheart and started a family which would grow to include eight children. It was an abusive marriage from the start. Looking back, “I was raised in an abusive home, it was what I knew and unconsciously gravitated to.” Moving to Florida, I worked in the horse industry for 32 years and became a respected assistant farm manager and equine rehabilitation therapist. But when I got hurt badly on the job, years of medical issues and chronic pain followed. My health plummeted and my husband’s abuse continued. My husband abandoned the marriage in 2013 and sold our home of 14 years without my knowledge. With my body badly damaged from chronic abuse and with multiple other health issues, I became homeless and unable to provide for myself.
I was able to find housing with my pastor’s family after a year and a half employed as a live-in house manager for an assisted living facility. That is when I began my advocacy work. In my work with the homeless and abused in Marion County, Florida, I found that most of those who are living on the streets get next to no ongoing care for chronic issues. Many of the homeless I meet are Vets and women escaping domestic violence. There are a few low cost or free health clinics, but they rely on private providers to donate their time.
So often, there are no physicians to cover the various needs. I say the same is true for prescription assistance. There are a few providers that can assist, but there are limits on the types of medications and the number of refills they can offer. “In the last four years I have lost 47 people due to lack of preventative medical care and in some cases lack of medication.”
I have been without health insurance most of my adult life. Part of my husband’s abusive behavior was to withhold medical insurance as well as medical care. After I became homeless that lack continued. I would occasionally use the Emergency Room when I needed to see a doctor, though that was no solution for ongoing care. While my medical records do not reflect that I am a victim of domestic violence, they do note that I was homeless. This has created a stigma; “Homeless people are treated badly by those in the medical professions, like garbage. I once had an ER doctor tell me to just go die.”
I live in chronic pain with no relief. I am not eligible to receive medical services through a local medical assistance program called WeCare. As a rule, outlined in their intake paperwork, domestic violence victims and others are excluded from their assistance. I believe that this is because providers want to avoid liability at all costs. “Providers don’t want to be called into court as witnesses for victims of crimes or auto accidents.” Her local health department utilizes a private medical provider at a rate of $25.00 per visit. I say that people are often turned away if they have an outstanding bill. Dental and eye care clinics are offered throughout the year on a first-come first-serve basis, which frequently only allows the providers to treat the worst cases. “This leaves many people with minor needs which often become major needs when left untreated, that includes mental health care.”
I am currently enrolled at the College of Central Florida in their Public Safety Bachelor’s degree program. I recently graduated with my Paralegal AS degree with honors and plans on continuing my scholastic path of becoming an attorney. I uses my college loans to pay for some of my living expenses which keeps me from being homeless again; however, I do not have enough to cover the cost of health insurance or ongoing medical care. “Sometimes, I feel like the State of Florida is trying to kill off low-income/no-income individuals through lack of healthcare. I didn’t die at my husband’s hands, but I’m slowly and painfully dying due to lack of medical care anyway.”
While my health conditions can make it hard for me to get my schoolwork done, I am determined to make a lasting difference in the lives of others. My family has a rich history of accomplished attorneys. My great-grandfather was once Attorney General for the state of Delaware. My great-aunt was the first woman admitted to the bar in that state. I am continuing my work as an advocate and mentor with hopes of adding to my family’s legacy. Ultimately, I would like to provide pro bono legal services for those people in whose shoes I have walked. “Being heard is important to all people. Informing others and having these conversations is important. If we can change the narrative [no matter the battle], we can change the future.”