A Texas native, living off $600 in monthly disability payments, Mika says she’s been homeless in her home state, as well as Colorado, Arkansas and California. She’s been on the streets of Reno since June, trying to find quiet places and avoiding the main shelter.
She says it’s difficult when homelessness is criminalized, and that you can get tickets for camping or cooking. But she says whatever the risks she still prefers living outside on her own.
“I like the camping lifestyle. I prefer nature, you know, because when I do have my chance in my camps, it's like a little mini apartment. I have what I need, you know, I'm self sufficient. I love being out here. It's just against the rules. I keep my area clean, I don't bother nobody. But … some of the others, they trash the place, they make, all kinds of ruckus, cheat, steal each other.”
But she says being around troublemakers is even worse at the shelter.
“They're against each other instead of building each other up …. they are against each other. So it's hard to be in a place like that when you're trying to get back up and can't seem to get back up because even your fellow female is against you. . We're supposed to be together to rise up, not to put each other down and keep each other down because I hurt just like they do and I know they hurt too … So I just can't stand that. Too many hens and not enough roosters …”
On Watch Duty and Frustrated by Housing Vouchers
Sometimes she will watch other people’s stuff and sometimes they watch hers, so she can go shower somewhere and check her mail. When she is on watch duty, she says she works on crossword puzzles or her own anagrams for hours on end.
Mika says she tried to go through government channels to secure affordable housing but ended up frustrated with the process.
“I had gotten my housing voucher after about five years and every time I went to sign up for places that took it, it’s one more waiting list and the voucher only last three months. So I kept having to start all over again…. Sometimes they have to stop the waiting list because it's just too full,” she said.
A Gambling Problem for the Homeless
Mika says having so many casinos around Reno is a problem for those like her, who always hope they can turn their luck but instead lose their government money.
“If the casinos were not here, people wouldn't be gambling their money away. If there would be no casinos, they would have their check. And I'm guilty of it. I've been guilty of it too. I didn't grow up around gambling, so I did not know how to gamble. In Texas, it's illegal…”
She said gambling isn’t her only addiction.
“I love to drink beer and I battle other things too …. drugs, alcohol, pills, men. I guess sometimes I do drugs but it’s not like my forte and my niche, but out here I'll rationalize myself to go to sleep, to forget, to feel better, to make the pain go away. It doesn't take it away, just for a little bit and I get caught up in that whirlwind of just wanting it to go away. and so sometimes it temporarily takes the pain away. That's the battle with it.”
Up and Down the River
Her recent life journey has taken her up and down the Truckee river. She’s thought of getting all her paperwork in order again to try with housing vouchers but sometimes feels that would be hopeless.
“I've been up and down the river from (downtown) and then all the way down to what they call the end of the world. I've lived all up and down this river. “
She said police often ask her to move and that she does. “They're just doing their jobs. Some of them are used to some really rude people and combativeness and so they have to treat everybody like that. You know what I mean? It's not talking about abuse or anything, but they have to use that tone of voice with everybody. No one's like tasering me or anything. . Just follow the rules. Yes sir or no sir. If they ask me to move on then I move on.”
Tears for Others and Her Mother
She has tears in her eyes as she gives advice to others who might be in her predicament.
“Rise up. Don't give up. You're not alone. If I can do it, you can do it. Rise up. You gotta reach out. You gotta ask for help. The worst somebody can say is, no. I'm pretty sure we've all heard the word no many, many times in our life and we're still alive today So don't kill yourself. Say something. Don't keep it to yourself. Don't hide. Don't be afraid to say something.”
She also has tears for her Mom even though she says she has nothing to say to her.
”I've forgiven her, but she knows why I'm out here. I know the story. She knows the story. She knows right where I'm at, and we know the story. She's still my mother, I miss her. I miss her,” she said.