Fluvanna resident talks about homelessness

By Madeline Otten, correspondent

Living on her own and out of her van was not the most challenging situation that Fluvanna resident Becky Blanton had to deal with in her entire life. It was facing the stigma that people associate with the word “homeless.”

Growing up, Blanton moved around a lot because of her dad’s work as a dentist. She grew up in Tennessee, but found herself all over the United States. After graduating from college, she did police work for a couple of years, was a raft guide, and got into journalism and photojournalism, as well as massage therapy.

“Being a raft guide was a blast,” said Blanton. “But I fell into ghost writing and loved it. I wrote for business authors and columns for big publications like the New York Times, Forbes, and more.”

At age 50, Blanton’s father passed away from brain cancer. She described him as someone who worked all the time and decided for herself that she did not want to live a life of regret. She was working as a newspaper editor 12 hours a day, seven days a week, so she quit and moved out west to Denver, Colo.

In Denver, Blanton captured photos of wildlife and soccer games, but when soccer season ended, so did the pay. Blanton didn’t have issues with addiction or abuse; she simply could not afford rent.

“When you’re homeless, nobody looks at you. They do not want to acknowledge you. They ignore you,” said Blanton. “When they don’t see you, see who you really are, it is a weird feeling, like you don’t matter or that you cease to exist.”

Blanton lived in her van with her Rottweiler and Maine Coon cat and would park by a stream or a campground. One of the most challenging struggles that came with being homeless was the ability to shower, use the bathroom, and to stay clean, especially during the summer in Colorado. She managed by going into businesses where she knew they had showers and gyms for employees and talking to the people inside.

“I coped with the rest, but I had to look presentable, which was a lot of work. I never begged, I always paid my own way,” said Blanton.

After being homeless for 18 months, Blanton left Colorado. Even though she was unable to turn to her family for support, she was able to live with her best friend for a while. She then got a job with a newspaper, which led to a better job with a newspaper in Danville, Va.

By 2009 Becky was at Oxford University in England, speaking to a standing room-only crowd at TED Global about her year and a half of “being invisible” as a 50-year-old homeless woman. Blanton had won a competition held by Dan Pink to come up with an additional lesson for his bestselling book The Adventures of Johnny Bunko.

Today, Becky has lost almost 100 pounds and is getting closer to her goal weight. When Blanton got back on her feet she realized she needed to change her health. Diabetes impacted her life so much that she was unable to partake in activities with friends. Blanton turned to a diet, exercise, and Sweet Defeat. Sweet Defeat is a lozenge, similar to a breath mint, which helps kill sugar cravings.

“Sweet Defeat is my ally – it helps me beat that one seemingly unbeatable craving, the desire for something sweet,” said Blanton. “And if you’re a diabetic, you know that when you cut out carbs and change your eating habits so drastically, it can seem almost impossible to eliminate those times of the day you crave something sweet. But Sweet Defeat did it for me, and it can do it for you.”

Blanton explained that she had tried everything on the market. She tried various diets and supplements, but this was the one that worked. The tablets were easy to carry around in her pocket and with this product, Blanton was able to kick her soda addiction that she said she used as a coping mechanism.

Blanton has been living in Fluvanna County for about 10 years. She created her own kindling business called The Homeless Entrepreneur, which is located on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville. “The students who collect, bundle and sell the kindling are able to keep the profits they make,” she said.“I would never do it again,” Blanton said, but added that she wouldn’t trade the experience for a million dollars. “You learn to depend on yourself and see yourself differently. It makes you a stronger person.”

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