Our pets are funny.
When our morning alarm goes off, our little cat comes up first, her motorboat purr and whiskers announcing her presence. Frodo the Pomeranian always waits for the snooze alarm for some reason, but as soon as that goes off, he bounces up and joins in, a great big yawning ball of fur.
At that point, we can either get up or get smothered, and so we crawl out of bed, my wife going off to fix coffee while I shower and get ready for work.
Or at least, that’s how mornings were in March, when I was working at the Weigand Center overseeing the computer lab for the homeless. I was also teaching computer literacy at the Department of Workforce Services. It didn’t pay well but just knowing that I was giving back in some way did my heart good.
I had lived among the homeless for almost a year, from late 2018 to August of 2019. I got to know many of them well, and I came to understand the struggles they face.
But springtime brought the pandemic, and many services closed or rolled back, including the computer rooms.
My wife and I are living in a tiny, 500-square-foot apartment that we were able to get into with a housing voucher for homeless veterans. I was shocked, at the time, to discover that I was eligible for this because I was never able to finish my tour in the Army. I simply thought that my failed excursion into the military didn’t count for anything, but I was wrong.
I became a homeless person in late 2018 when I was forced to leave where I had been staying. I had been laid off repeatedly in the tech field and it was getting harder and harder to find a new job. My wife had someone who could take her in, thankfully. My wife is a former RN who was disabled by a parathyroid tumor that messed up her ability to process calcium.
To make a very long story very short, I was broken socially. I just never knew exactly how or why. My entire life had been a series of fits and starts interspersed with dramatic moments of turmoil and emotional shutdown. As a young boy, my parents had paraded me around to several psychiatrists, to no avail.
My parents eventually put me in a residential private school and basically wrote me off. The rest of my childhood was a miasma of outward confusion and emotional meltdowns.
At 18, I joined the military because I thought that the Army would straighten everything out for me, but they sent me back in a manner of months on an honorable/medical discharge.
They had put me in a psychiatric ward for a while but ultimately decided that they couldn’t determine what my problem was, so they just discharged me on a generic medical form and sent me home.
With no other recourse, I struggled on with my confusion and flitted from place to place, job to job, eventually getting a college degree in computer science and working up to a position as technical server engineer at Dell/EMC.
I thought that I was finally a success, but my social difficulties came nipping away at my confidence, chewing away at my psyche, eventually bringing my world crashing down around me, yet again.
It wasn’t until I was a homeless man in my 50s that a bright young counselor was able to correctly inform me of my condition.
I had Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The news came as such a shock that I consulted three other counselors and two doctorates, one a Ph.D. and the other a PsyD, before it fully sank in. I took hours of tests, reliving my life again and again and again. The doctor in charge of the testing created a 14-page report and there it was. It was true. A fact.
I had been autistic. The whole time. Just high functioning enough to throw off a correct diagnosis when I had been younger.
Now, they tell me, all I can do is attend counseling and try to override my most self-destructive behaviors. Had they caught it when I was younger, they tell me, I could have lived a mostly normal life.
It’s now August 2020, and it will have been one year since I walked out of the homeless shelter and rejoined my wife in the tiny little apartment that we secured with the veteran’s voucher. We are doing OK except the pandemic has put a hold on my employment and kept us inside.
The voucher will expire soon, and then we will have to spend 64% of my wife’s meager disability income to stay housed while we wait for the pandemic to end. I eagerly await the day that I can return to assist my former homeless compatriots in some way.
Until then, my wife and I will revel in the love that fills our tiny apartment as we shelter in place.
Kip Yost is a formerly homeless person now living with his wife in an apartment in Salt Lake City.