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Adventures in Homelessness

At the shelter I’m Kathy Lee and she was Kathleen…. She was a large woman who slept on her back next to me in the upstair room for single ladies at the women and families shelter.

She had bad snoring problem…sleep apnea probably….she dozed most of the day also, sitting upright in one of the upholstered chairs at the shelter while the Disney channel blared from some flat screen somewhere. Staying at the Bill and Melinda Gate funded Shelter for Women and Families in Tacoma was at once gracious and uncomfortable, in a no feet up on the furniture sort of way.

Kathleen always slept in lovely dainty nightgowns pulled from her big battered suitcase….I just slept in my clothes and pulled the covers tight, Kathleen would always manage to throw off all the blankets like a child in the night and lay there beautiful nightie, with no undies; all exposed and snoring. Oblivious to the room of strangers around her.….. I thought she must be touched: slow or retarded somehow? Is her family gone now, or they didn’t want her I wondered, sad. I don’t want to think about why I am here.

She was touchy. Prone to yelling incoherent thoughts at the dinner table, but shes’s not dangerous; I don’t think. She smokes a lot. I do too so I’d sit next to her just for the company. Being homeless is lonely. So Kathleen smokes her rollies, or would bum one from me or smoke the butts out of our giant ashtray when I said no and I’d just sit quietly next to her. We’d never speak. That’s why I like her she’s quiet, with me at least. Sometimes she holds loud conversations with herself.

One day she gave me bright pink bathrobe that’s too small to fit her, another day she told me to take off my big, black winter coat. She meant it, she didn’t want anyone in the mob seeing me in that jacket and, “where did I GET IT!” I laughingly pointed out her jacket was black, big mistake. It upset her quite a bit so for a while I wore a different jacket.

I didn’t get exactly what her grasp on reality was. I just know that for nearly a year I lived next to her peacefully and the last time I saw her she hugged me and told me in one of the most coherent conversations we had ever had that she had finally gotten a low-income apt. It was my last day there too…The place was closing to single women. They had lost their grant for the single women’s room, only families were welcome anymore.… I had gone back and forth for months with all my problems to that shelter and Kathleen had seen my face on a regular basis, she lived there.

The shelter that was Kathleen’s home that year while I drug my suitcase back and forth trying to get my shit together was more live a safe haven for me, or a backup plan. Now it was closing, I wondered how she felt about moving into her own apt by herself, but with my head barely above water over the closing I didn’t think to ask her. My plan B was gone and I was panicking.

Don’t worry….just like Kathleen I found another more permanent shelter with the help of an advocate here in Tacoma, but I had to leave everything and everyone I knew and become truly homeless to go live in a dedicated women’s program for D.V survivors. With no cash and no family support to do so. But that’s another story.