This article is the second in a short series focusing on housing issues facing young adults.
Extreme cold weather moved into the region early Thursday morning, delaying school in some districts. The high temperature for the day crept up to 12 degrees Fahrenheit. There are no homeless shelters in Xenia and 22-year-old Anna Thornhill was thankful to not be sleeping on the bench beside the Greene County Library.
“Or sleeping anywhere outside, really,” said Thornhill. “I used to sleep beside the bike path on blankets I got from the hospital. I used to sleep in the bathroom at the Xenia Police Station. The lights would turn off at a certain time and I would just snuggle up on the floor in the disabled stall with my dog.”
Seizures and service dog
Thornhill has a 1-and-half-year old German Shepherd service dog tagged and certified as an Ohio Handicap Assistance Dog. His name is Thor — “He’s famous in Xenia,” said Thornhill — the dog helps her when she has a seizure.
“He warns me before I have a seizure. There’s not much he can do, he can’t dial 911,” said Thornhill. But the dog can give her a five to 10 minute warning. “He’ll nudge me, and I have to stop and think, ‘Do I feel dizzy?’ and then he’ll start whining, and I know I’m probably going to have a seizure in a few minutes. Then when he starts barking, I know I’m seconds away from having a seizure.”
Thornhill said Thor starts barking to get the attention of anyone around who can help call 911. She said he is also trained to recognize and alert people in uniform, typically paramedics or police officers.
Thor goes everywhere with Anna. During the spring and summer, when the weather was warmer, the two would walk to the UDF on Second Street, spend the day reading in the Greene County Public Library, or eat together at McDonald’s on Main Street. And when Thornhill gets transported to the Greene Memorial Hospital for a seizure, Thor is right there in the ambulance with her.
“My whole life, he will be my service dog,” said Thornhill. “Eventually he’s going to die, but when he does, I’d like to have an honorable funeral for him. He’s already done a lot for me.”
With Thor beside her at the Greene County Hospital, Thornhill said his presence helps to ease her anxiety. “He flirts with the nurses. They have literally brought him ice cream in the hospital before.”
She said he even tries to talk to the nurses, in dog-talk, and they talk back to him, explaining how they have to do a series of tests on Thornhill after she has a seizure.
After one of her more severe seizures in June, doctors and nurses did a series of tests that included a blood test to check her hormone levels.
“Because I was found unconscious on the sidewalk in Xenia, the hospital was going to do a CAT scan, and asked me if there was any chance I was pregnant. Kind of joking, I said, ‘Well there’s a chance because I don’t use protection,’ but I didn’t think I was, because I was told by my doctor that I couldn’t have kids,” said Thornhill.
The test came back positive. Thornhill was pregnant. She had been sleeping on the bench beside the Greene County Public Library in Xenia.
“I got very desperate to find a place to stay. I called my dad, I said, ‘Look, I’m pregnant, I can’t be on the streets.’ I stayed with my parents for a very short time while looking for help,” said Thornhill.
A few weeks later she moved into the Family Violence Prevention Center in Xenia, where she has been living since July.
“I’ve been through a lot of domestic violence and it’s the safest place for me, especially while I’m pregnant,” said Thornhill.
She describes the father of her child as a 19-year-old “wanderer.”
When they met, Thornhill was at Greene Memorial Hospital. She had been staying in an apartment on Hickman Road when her 20-year-old boyfriend assaulted her; he was sent to jail, she was in the intensive care unit. Then this new man walked into her life, but he wasn’t really new: the two had met years ago at The Learning Center, a school for struggling kids in Yellow Springs.
“He was this squeaky, pre-teen little brother to my friend who was in the same grade as me. She would be like, ‘Oh my little brother drew you this picture,’ and it would be stick figures of me and him holding hands with hearts everywhere. It was ridiculous, but adorable. So when I saw him at the hospital, I was like, ‘Holy crap, he’s all grown up now, he’s hot,’” said Thornhill.
The two started dating, and Thornhill said they would stay where ever they could in Xenia and wandered from place to place sleeping on benches, at friend’s houses, in sheds, in the dirt. Some nights they wouldn’t even sleep at all, they’d just keep walking.
“We had issues, we got in that physical fight and everything. I got a protection order. A day after he was served the papers he violated it and served 30 days in jail and he got out after 30 days and about two weeks later, violated it again and went back to jail for 30 days,” said Thornhill.
Thornhill said that if he violates the protection order again, he could be sent to prison, so he’s keeping his distance. And since the the protection order is in place for two years, Thornhill said he won’t be there when the baby is born.
Thornhill got married in 2014 to a man who was a welder and an electrician. That relationship didn’t work out.
“He was abusing me to the point where I have seizures now,” said Thornhill. “I would wake up and have a black eye, and the medics would say that my husband said I had just hit my head or something, and for awhile I believed it, but the injury was due to my seizures. Or, that bruise on your side. I’d have bruises because I fell and injured myself seizing. It was a combination of physical and a lot of verbal and mental abuse that caused me to have seizures. The result was PTSD. Even mental abuse can cause seizures. But adding physical abuse can cause seizures.”
It was this time last year that Thornhill and her husband’s relationship was at its worst. In January she said she was forced to leave the apartment she shared with her husband in Urbana.
“January 15th I went into a series of seizures and I dialed 911 and stuck it under the couch so he wouldn’t see me call. I was unconscious when the medics showed up but when they were putting me in the cot I remember waking up and my step-daughter was screaming at the side of the bed,” said Thornhill.
She was transported to the local hospital, where the doctor told her that if coming in for seizures continued it could cause further hospitalization. The doctor was worried something more was going on.
“He said to me, ‘I looked back at my notes, and whenever you have come in for a seizure, it’s after you’ve had an argument with your husband. It seems like there’s something not right and you need to get somewhere that’s safe,’” said Thornhill.
The nurses called the domestic violence hotline to get her into a shelter in Springfield. The police took her from the hospital to the shelter, Project Woman, and she wasn’t able to go back to the apartment to get her belongings. She lived at Project Woman until early March, when she was kicked out in March after a woman in the shelter used her phone.
“She used my phone to message her abuser, and when I messaged her abuser and said, ‘I don’t want any more of this on my phone,’ she got upset because she could no longer message her abuser and told the staff that I was messaging her abuser,” said Thornhill.
With nowhere to go, Thornhill walked out of the shelter with a wheeled luggage bag and her dog.
“Not even knowing Springfield at all, that was the beginning of me being homeless,” Thornhill said.
She said she lived on the streets in Springfield for two or three weeks.
“That first day I was out on the streets, I called my parents and they picked up my dog. I didn’t feel he was safe on the street,” said Thornhill. “My mom gave me 20 dollars and was crying. She gave me a hug and they said, ‘Good luck.’ I was scared, especially since it was still winter, there was still snow outside.”
Anna didn’t want to be homeless but she said it wasn’t possible for her to move in with her parents, who live in Beavercreek. Thornhill said she lived with them growing up and graduated from Beavercreek High School.
“I still love my parents and they’ve been super helpful, especially now that the baby’s on the way, but their reasoning in parenting might not be the same as mine,” said Thornhill. “My mom would say, ‘I’m really worried about you, I wish I could help.’ It’s a famous thing she would say. Her and my dad both, but he was more along the lines of, ‘You need to go get a job.’ There’s no way you cannot look homeless and get a job and stay clean. After one day, you want to go home and take a shower and you can’t. All jobs require you to stay clean and not come in with scraggly messy hair. If you came in and your hair is in a mess and you got bugs crawling on you and your clothes are dirty, there’s mud on my side from sleeping on the ground, my shirt got torn last night because this guy ripped my shirt when I got mugged, you can’t be like, ‘Hey boss, it’s time to make some chicken nuggets.’ They’re not going to let you do that,” said Thornhill.
She said it’s not the employer’s responsibility to make sure the employees show up clean for work.
“You have to look job-ready. What if you can’t shave, you don’t have a hair-tie? Your boss can’t provide that. It’s frustrating, and some people have health issues, so they can’t go work a factory job that will pay more,” said Thornhill and then added: “I’ve been homeless too long.”
Thornhill has experienced several muggings and assaults while living on the streets in Springfield and Xenia. She keeps a copy of each incident report inside of a file folder that she carries with her.
“I got assaulted a lot. People would randomly mug me and slug me,” said Thornhill.
Not only does she have seizures, but she said, “I have severe anxiety and severe PTSD. It’s classified as severe. Those are my mental issues right now. Physically, I have heart arrhythmia, I have to take medicine to regulate my heart rate.”
“I tried weed,” said Thornhill. It was early spring and she was living on the streets in Xenia. One of the young people she met had asked her to hold onto “a large amount of marijuana” while he went down the street to get food.
“I was hanging around an abandoned store in Xenia when this cop came by and started circling the parking lot, so down the hatch it went,” said Thornhill. “I consumed all of it. I ate it. It was awful.”
She said the cop disappeared so she “basically ate it for nothing.” Thornhill, who had never tried marijuana before, said it hit her hard.
“Hours later I started feeling it in my system and I was so high I walked all the way out of Greene County. There were people calling the police because I was singing really loud walking down the sidewalk,” said Thornhill. “I remember telling the cop, I just want to go for my walk, it feels really good outside. He said, ‘It’s 4 a.m.’ and then the officer said, ‘I know you’re high.’ So I told the officer, ‘Look, officer, I just consumed a large amount of marijuana.’”
The officer took her to the psych ward at Miami Valley Hospital.
“He said I was talking about nonsense in the backseat. Thor was with me and I went into a seizure so the officer pulls over because I’m non-responsive. Thor hops out of the vehicle, onto the highway. I woke up to ambulance lights and it was really intense. We were both checked into the psych ward by 6 a.m. The doctors said there was nothing wrong with me, I was just getting down from a high,” said Thornhill.
Thornhill knows about heroin and other drugs from meeting people while living on the streets in Xenia.
“I knew a lot of people who smoked meth. Meth and heroin are popular here,” said Thornhill. She estimated that she has met anywhere from 20 to 30 young people who live on the streets in Xenia. A lot of them, she said, are habitual drug users. But she said she has heard the horror stories and since she had a bad experience with marijuana, decided not to try any of the other drugs that are passed around. Thornhill said the only addiction issue she had was to alcohol, and that was before she was pregnant.
“It’s very unfortunate, but it’s very depressing to be homeless and drinking relaxes you. To me it just made me fall asleep. I know a lot of people who have depression issues and are homeless tend to drink to drown their sorrows, in a sense,” said Thornhill.
The day she found out she was pregnant, she decided to discontinue doing anything that would harm her or her child, including smoking cigarettes.
With the baby due in eight weeks, Thornhill has a hospital bag packed and the car seat ready. She said her mom has been supportive, and she still calls her sometimes and cries. She plans to be moved into a low-income Greene County Metropolitan Housing building by the end of the year. It will have 24-hour camera surveillance and it will give Thornhill a safe space to raise her son.
“It’s really hard, my application process took five months. They get really thorough and want to know why they should give you free housing before they can just give you free housing,” said Thornhill.
At 31 weeks pregnant, she said her son is due Feb. 13, “The day before Valentine’s Day.”
She said she’s optimistic about the future.
“Through all of this, I think what I have learned is to never give up. Never give up that you’re not going to have a safe place to live. I want people to know there can be struggles, but definitely grasp the resources that you can obtain. Get help. Always seek help with everything, from drug problems to homelessness to domestic violence. Get help, and things will get better,” Thornhill said.
Reach Ashley at (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton