If you’ve followed this blog since it launched 20-months ago, you probably know who Raymond Trower is: Raymond “Street Voice” Trower that is. If you haven’t, and don’t, I’ll tell you.
Ray was a frequent contributor to this website’s First Person column. He publishedThe Santa Barbara Community Street Voice, a newsletter full of homeless peoples’ writing and resources for them and other economically stricken Santa Barbara residents. When he moved from Casa Esperanza into a studio apartment in January 2010, he became a homeless advocate, serving on the board of Bringing Our Community Home (BOCH).
Last May, after two years in Santa Barbara– one year at Casa and one year in his room at The Victoria, Ray moved back to Oklahoma. Now he’s on the verge of becoming homeless again.
This isn’t how it was supposed to go for Ray. When he left Santa Barbara on a 7 pm Greyhound bus that warm spring evening, his departure made sense. He was smitten; emotionally attached to a young woman named Tami—a woman who needed his help. Love was calling. What choice did he have?
Ray is originally from Oklahoma. He was laid off in 2008 and when he realized he was going to be homeless over the winter, drove to the West Coast. His chances of surviving it were better out here, he thought. Ray didn’t mean to land in Santa Barbara. He’d heard not a peep about our amazing homeless “services.” He was actually just passing through town in a car when his health took a bad turn. He got a medical bed at Casa, then spent several weeks in critical condition in the hospital, during which time his car was impounded, causing him to lose everything he owned but a pair of pants, shoes and a shirt.
The story of Ray and Tami is spelled out in his columns. You can click read more at the bottom of theFirst Person section, scroll down to the near-bottom of the list of submissions and you will see Nights with Tami. In it, you’ll learn that the spark that began their relationship was that old favorite and most universal dilemma– loneliness. Up there in his single-room at The Victoria, where residents by and large stay behind their closed locked doors, Ray lost ground emotionally. But you have to realize, Ray is an enormously gregarious, big-hearted goofball of a guy. Suddenly he was living in isolation. At Casa Esperanza, there were people around—probably too many people—all the time. On top of this, his health—and extra-large size—made it challenging for him to get out and walk. If that wasn’t enough, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, migraines, and depression.
But solace arrived through the Cox Cable line, running up into his computer screen. It was in an Internet chat room that Ray found Tami. She was a 20-something woman grieving the death of her young daughter. She lived in Morristown, Tennessee, just outside of Knoxville, worked as a cashier for minimum wage. She lived alone and fought various kinds of self-destructive impulses. She and Ray began to talk via Skype. They talked for hours at a time—deep into the night. Ultimately, they began leaving the monitors on when they slept, so they wouldn’t have to sleep alone. Ray began sending Tami small amounts of money, from his Social Security Disability Insurance check every month, a check that was not, I assure you, very big.
Sometime that spring, Tami suffered a health crisis and Ray felt he had to do something; he had to help. She shouldn’t be living alone. So they decided he would move to Tennessee and rent out her spare bedroom, for a while. Eventually he’d move into a place of his own. And in the meantime, he’d be her support, her friend and ally. The plan made sense to them.
It did not work however. And for Ray, it was dame-near disastrous.
He got off the bus in Mt. Carmel, Tennessee, at a convenience store in the middle of nowhere, still 15 miles from Morristown—his destination. He ended up hitching a ride the rest of the way. The two met for the very first time in the lobby of a hotel I don’t know for sure what was said or felt by either party, but Ray never went to Tami’s house. The plan disintegrated right there, leaving him stuck in Tennessee with barely enough money to catch a bus out of town. Meanwhile, his body is not holding up very well. His leg ulcers were weeping. He was retaining too much water, and didn’t have money for a healthy meal.
But he managed to get a bus to Oklahoma, where an old friend offered him a place to stay for a while. In the end, the friend, who was married with a baby on the way, rented Ray a room in his house in exchange for help building an addition.
But Ray helped with a lot more than that. Using his Social Security Disability Insurance check, he helped pay their rent, paid several months of water and electricity bills. He even bought them an air-conditioner when temperatures surpassed 100 degrees last summer.
In the fall, they asked him to leave. The arrangement went sour and Ray moved to a converted roadside motel alongside Route 75 in Henryetta, where he is today.
Things haven’t been going well for Ray economically. Oklahoma’s eligibility standards for Social Security Insurance (SSI) are stricter than California’s and Ray recently informed he would not be receiving the 95 dollars he was getting from that program. He continues to get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)—a federal program. But because of the move, California’s Department of Social Services is making him repay the Medicare premiums that his Medi-Cal insurance covered for the months of September and October. The 300-dollar deduction will come out of his January SSDI check.
This one time deduction will lower his SSDI payment to 452 dollars for the month of January. His rent is 480 dollars. He has a little money in the bank to cover the difference. But all in all, after his rent is paid, he will have 12 dollars to get through the month.
“I can’t figure it out,” he said the on the phone Tuesday night. “If I bay my bills, I’ve got 12 dollars left [to get through the month]. If I don’t pay my bills, stuff gets cut off and I’ll be back to where I started.”
It’s only the next few months that will be problematic, because in February, the full SSDI check will once again be restored—756 dollars – enough to cover rent, cable, food and his cell phone. But that still leaves the dilemma of January.
Ray would love to come back to Santa Barbara, where he still has a number of friends. He has no car, and there isn’t any public transportation out of Henryetta. So he has no idea how he would even get to a bus. He describes making one-dollar egg noodle meals, which he mixes with chicken noodle soup and canned peas. His 12 foot by 12 foot room has one window overlooking the motel parking lot. He doesn’t like asking for help, but he knows he has to. So, I am carrying forth his plea. If anybody out there has a few extra dollars to space, Ray could really use them right now.
You can send them to:
1002 West Main Street