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Homeless couple talks about local experience

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They met in San Francisco and returned to Roswell so she could get a legal ID again. Chance, left, and Dan are working to create a life worth living. They are now returning to San Francisco after living briefly in Roswell as part of the city's homeless population. (Curtis Michaels Photo)

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Dan and Chance are a young homeless couple who came to Roswell briefly. They remained here longer than intended.

“I’m from Roswell,” Chance said. “I had the opportunity to go to culinary school in San Francisco, and of course I was going to take that opportunity. We wanted to come back to Roswell, see my family, get my ID and then get on to somewhere bigger. It took me a month and a half to get my ID and my Social Security card, but now that I have them, I have options.”

Chance is among an increasingly disproportionate part of American culture. While 5 to 10 percent of America’s youth are LGBT, according to the National Institutes for Health, up to 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT.

“I’m a trans woman, so Roswell really isn’t a place where I could receive any sort of services at all,” Chance said. “I was never going to be able to live happily as who I am in Roswell, New Mexico. It was so hard to get people to understand that we can’t stay here.”

Now that Chance has her ID, they left this week to move back to the San Francisco area where they met. California Assembly Bill 1733, signed into law in 2014, requires free birth certificates and state IDs or driver’s licenses for anyone who can demonstrate they are homeless.

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“I can get my ID in California in one day,” Dan said.

Once they realized they were going to be in Roswell for a few weeks, Dan tried making money in similar ways he had in other places.

“I’ve tried playing instruments out here,” he said, “which did not get a good response. I thought that was weird, I was actually doing something, not just holding a sign. People hated it. It’s like they need homeless people to be miserable. It’s very opposite to most places I’ve been.”

Dan was offered opportunities that didn’t help much.

“People have offered me $5 an hour to work for them,” Dan said. “Why should I accept $5 an hour when I can make more holding a sign? I’m not opposed to working at a fast food place. I’m opposed to making less money than I need to live.”

Growing up here and living abroad has given Chance a unique perspective on being homeless in Roswell.

“People want to pity you rather than want to see you do something,” she said. “You don’t dare look like you’re having fun, you have to look like you’re miserable. People in Roswell don’t make much money. People here don’t have the same sense of money as most of the rest of the country does. It’s like everyone here is hanging on by a thread. Everybody deserves to make enough to survive, and if people offer you less than you need to survive, there’s no dignity in that.”

Dan started life in South Florida and had some adventures he’d rather not repeat.

“I’m originally from Miami,” he said. “Roswell reminds me of parts of South Florida in how conservative it is. When I turned 18, I moved to New York City, where my father lived.

“About two years into it, I fell into patterns of depression and then I fell into a bad habit. I’m six years clean now. But then I was in art school and living with a woman who had money to keep me high. She liked the art I was creating, but I was scared I was dying. My family got me out of there and into rehab.”

Dan first experienced homelessness in San Francisco.

“I didn’t want to ask my family for more money so I decided I could just live outside,” he said. “It’s harder than you’d think. There’s nothing to do, you really can’t get work without an address.”

Many homeless camps are drug-free because some residents won’t tolerate something they’ve seen kill so many loved ones.

“I moved to a place where there was no drug use allowed,” Dan said. “That helped a lot. Neither of us uses any drugs of any kind.”

Chance says there’s little help for the homeless in Roswell, and a propensity to stigmatize drug use.

“Well, if you have no hope of getting your life back, then the next best thing might be to hide from it all in drugs,” Chance said. “It makes me mad.”

Dan and Chance boarded a bus for San Francisco Wednesday, thanks to some generous gifts from local people who want to see them have a chance to make a good life again.

“There are a lot of services out there for homeless people under 24,” she said. “They help you get back on your feet. It’s easy to sleep outside there, too. I heard it just became illegal to sleep outside in Roswell.”

Dan spoke of a program in southern California that is taking a page from a Utah experiment started two years ago.

“Homeless Works L.A. is working to give people homes,” he said. “Not worrying about if they use drugs or if they are religious or not, just giving them homes because it’s the right thing to do and it saves the taxpayer a lot of money. I can only hope that the rest of America catches on to the fact that giving homeless people a place to live solves a lot of society’s problems.”

Chance said it’s really about the people.

“That’s everybody’s dream,” she said, “to have a place where they can be safe, they can be themselves, and they can grow their autonomy.”

Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.