After four homeless years, couple gets a new start at Trinidad State
Trinidad Campus / April 13, 2016 / Written by Margaret Sanderson
In 2010 drug abuse cost Chip and Carrie Reed their home, their jobs and their four children. “We let them down. We failed them,” Carrie said as her eyes filled with tears.
For four years they would struggle to survive on the street, first in Texas and then in Colorado. “We did a lot of day labor in Texas to try to get ourselves off the street,” Carrie said. They believed they could become certified as flaggers on a road construction crew if they could get to Denver.
A homeless person with a van gave them a ride. As they passed through Trinidad on the way, Carrie saw an awning on a building at Trinidad State that advertised the welding and auto mechanics programs. She thought to herself as they drove by, ‘I’d rather be going to school there than living on the street.’ But it would be more than a year before her prophetic thought came true.
Unfortunately, when they reached Colorado Springs, they learned the flagging opportunity was no longer available. Discouraged, they decided to stay there and look for work.
“People wouldn’t believe we were a married couple until we showed our IDs,” Carrie said. “What happened to you guys?” they were asked. “Life,” answered Carrie, “our childhoods that we never dealt with. We found the wrong way to deal with our emotions.”
Chip and Carrie often held up a homeless message scrawled on cardboard hoping for a handout. The homeless call it “flying a sign.” Some days they ate. Some days they didn’t. Chip said, “I don’t know how many times I heard, ‘Get a job you f___in’ vomit!” He wanted to yell back, “I’m trying to get a job.” But everywhere they looked for work, a phone or license plate number or a home address was required.
After four months of trying to find steady work, the desperate couple decided to head back to Texas. They had enough money to hire a cab to take them as far as Pueblo where they found a patch of woods to camp in. “We started to fall apart,” said Carrie, “and I told Chip, ‘I’m going back to Texas. I don’t give a s__t what you do.’ But street life is rough, they said, especially in Pueblo. Chip convinced Carrie they should stay together. Choking up, he explained, “As angry as I could have gotten with her, to leave her alone – the things that are out there, for them to get to her was not an option for me.” In Pueblo Chip broke his hand twice -- once when he defended Carrie against a drunk and then again when he defended a “dirty kid” who was being mistreated. Homeless people refer to homeless teens as “dirty kids.“ While Chip defended the young man, Carrie saw a guy approach Chip from behind. He was going to strike Chip on the head. “I wasn’t going to have it,” said Carrie as she rushed in, grabbed the guy by his belt and the back of his shirt and slammed him to the ground. Ironically, she earned that man’s respect and they later became friends. “I was loud and rowdy. I didn’t take much,” said Carrie, “but there was times when I was grateful he was there.” Carrie added, “You can’t depend on anyone else to have your back. I had him and he had me.”
“You have no door to lock and no wall to protect you,” she added. “Once a guy attacked us with a large branch while we were sleeping in our tent. We came out ready to fight,” said Carrie.
“Living homeless is scary and nerve wracking,” said Chip. Carrie affirmed, “It’s damn scary, man. If you show fear, you’re a target.” Chip continued, “I’m a big guy. I think that helped us out a lot. People don’t tend to mess with you as much if you look kind of tough. My rough look helped us out.”
“The attacks brought us closer together,” said Carrie. But it was Zoey that made the biggest difference. After the attacks, they decided to buy a pit bull for protection. Not long after they purchased her, they discovered she was afraid of stop signs and the dark. “But she did protect us,” Chip explained, “because she prompted us to become parents. We didn’t want to fail with her the way we had failed before. She’s probably one of the biggest reasons we had a turn around.” “She is the reason,” Carrie emphasized. After they had lost everything but each other, the addition of Zoey sort of felt like they were getting a chance to start over.
Wanting to get back to Texas, they walked out to Love’s Truck Stop in Pueblo and found a homeless person with a van to travel with. But an argument over money caused them to get out in Trinidad. It was August of 2013. They continued to fly signs and look for work but Carrie had had enough.
Gathering all the courage she had and shaking with fear she timidly walked in to the Adult Education Center at Trinidad State. Had it not been for Nancy Wilkinson’s (Adult Education Director – now retired) warm welcome, she may have turned and run. But having passed three of the four required GED classes while in Texas, she only needed one more -- math. Her self-confidence was at an all-time low, and she didn’t believe she could do it, but she signed up anyway. Part way through the course, Carrie announced, “I’m done!” But Tammie Mack (current Adult Education Director) fired back, “Over my dead body! You’re not quitting!” Mack’s response was far different from the “stupid” Carrie said she heard so often in elementary school. Buoyed by the encouragement and instruction she received from Mack and GED Instructor Marilyn McGuire she passed her math test in December. Christmas Eve would be the last time she would “fly a sign.”
Chip already had his GED and his confidence level was low as well but Mack and McGuire urged them on. Their confidence in the couple seemed to give them confidence in themselves. Carrie was first to register for college. Because she “always liked to play in the dirt,” she chose to study heavy equipment and diesel mechanics. A few days later, Chip registered for the same classes.
In May Carrie and Chip will graduate with AAS Degrees (Associate of Applied Science) in Diesel Mechanics and Heavy Equipment Operation. They dream of working in the mine at Victor where Carrie hopes to drive one of those huge rock trucks, so big the driver has to climb a series of steps and platforms to get inside.
What they learned
“I learned humility,” said Chip. “Even though people make mistakes, you shouldn’t judge them by that mistake and cast them away.” He added, “If they could get hold of the drug problem in the country, they could get hold of the homeless problem.”
Carrie learned how little she really needs. She would love to live in a tiny house. “If I can live in a tent, I can live in a tiny house,” she said. “I don’t need a lot.”
For her final project in Sociology, Carrie is sharing what it’s like to be homeless. “We really haven’t talked about it. We just shove it to the side,” said Carrie, “because it will lead up to the girls and we don’t talk about the girls. Living homeless makes you realize how freakin’ stupid you were.” With tears streaming down her face she shared the names and ages of their teenaged daughters.
“I don’t cry easily,” said Carrie. “I’m very proud of myself. I’m going to try really hard not to cry when I walk across that stage.” “I’m proud too,” Chip said, “I never thought I was college material.”
“Trinidad State plays a big part in us staying off the street and our future. There’s a lot of good teachers here,” said Carrie. “There’s always bumps in the road. It’s how you handle those bumps.” Chip added, “I’d like to think that we’re starting to handle our bumps a little better.”