Cecilia Holmes -Photo by James L. Stroud, Jr.
“I’m glad there’s no Black people in the building,” Cecilia Holmes flatly states, staring at with me a concentrated gaze and a perfectly straight face.
It may sound like a bigoted statement, but Holmes, who is Black herself, doesn’t say this because she thinks White people are better. She simply has seen too many instances in the past of her own people running down their apartment buildings, turning them into magnets for drug dealers and hookers, eventually leading to police call after police call.
Holmes spent more than 10 years homeless, shuttling from shelter to shelter, from friends’ couches to friends’ couches, sometimes just walking the street. She is not the least bit interested in winding up on her behind again, especially as hard as economic times are these days. And certainly not because some knucklehead who can’t resist living up to a stereotype makes it hard for others.
Landlords, like anyone else, can be guilty of lumping people in a category and deciding, “Okay, that’s it. No more government clients. They’re more trouble than they’re worth.” Point in case: Holmes’ upstairs neighbor.
Also a recipient of government funding, this neighbor is a living, breathing nuisance. When he gets a check, it’s all about letting the good times roll. All night. As loudly as humanly possible. People coming and going all day and odd hours of the evening, arguments, music playing full blast.
The landlord finally got fed up and served him notice of eviction; as of this writing, he’ll be gone by the end of the month. “I’m not trying to get put out along with that fool,” says Holmes. “I’m quiet, keep to myself, and have a nice home here. I want to keep it, thank you very much.”
Holmes is 60. Her fixed income is derived from Hennepin County General Assistance and a State program. She used to work as a nurse’s aide but can’t anymore, owing to back and hip problems. In the event that she is able to pick up a part-time job here or there, she’s not allowed to earn more than $50 in a given month without forfeiting her County benefits.
She strives diligently — with success, she says — to make her meager ends meet in the face of an environment that is brutal on one’s spending dollar. There are convenience stores in her South Minneapolis neighborhood a short bus ride from downtown, but she’ll go right past them and hit the supermarkets up and down Lake Street.
“Those little stores can cost big money when you add it up — way too much. I buy eggs at one place, produce at another. It depends on who has the best savings that particular week. I buy my chicken wings and things like that at [a meat store].”
What about clothing? “I’m fine with clothes. Haven’t bought a new outfit since I can remember. But, I have nice things if I want to go out somewhere. If I really need something, I can go to the second-hand store. But I don’t need much.”
An old adage says you are rich in relation to the number of things you don’t have to have. That being the case, Holmes is wealthy enough. A major expense was spared when she moved into her apartment four years ago.
The program picked up the tab to fully furnish her modest one-bedroom flat. Granted, it’s not designer dressers and drawers, but everything in the place is sturdy and none of it looks like it came from a fire clearance at Sanford & Son’s. She also has, along with her rent, the phone and electricity paid for.
So, exercising a frugal hand with the living expenses that strain her resources, Holmes quite contentedly goes about her day. Sometimes that means holding down the living-room couch and keeping the television set company. Sometimes it means enjoying a visit from her grandchildren. “My worst days at home are better than my best days were without one.”
She was given the apartment as part of social services program that did outreach at a shelter where she lived. “A worker came and told me about the program, where they were giving homeless people apartments. She helped me fill out the application. A month later I had someplace to live, for which I am very grateful.”
She has no strong opinion on how President Barack Obama is handling the economy: “I don’t really know. I guess he’s doing the best he can.” Cecelia Holmes is more concerned with how well she is able to manage her own situation. And for the past four years, with four walls and a roof she can finally call her own, she hasn’t been doing too badly at all.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
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