What I learned by giving a homeless woman shelter in my home
“The idea in your head that everyone around you is against you, every night, and every single waking minute.”
I never thought I would do a thing like this. We generally have a bad perception of homeless people. I’ve had my fair share throughout the US, Canada, India and Europe. From drunken abusive yelling, following me several blocks and asking me for drugs and to people with missing fingers and teeth tapping my driver’s window surrounding the car. I generally don’t give money to panhandlers anymore after some have rejected food from me when standing in front of a burger joint. I only give money to people selling Real Change and homeless shelters.
To keep her anonymity, I’ll refer to her as Emerald. I met Emerald near a local coop coffee shop, after some friendly conversation I found that she was homeless and needed a place to stay for the night. She had been sleeping at her friend’s storage shelter’s cold concrete floor since she couldn’t sleep in her beat-up car comfortably in the winter.
I agreed to let her stay.
You are probably yelling at me in your head, “what the hell were you thinking? aren't you afraid you’re going to get stabbed / robbed / raped / [insert your nightmare here]?” (That was the reaction of some of the few people I told)
Yea I was afraid of this too. However, I’ve dealt with enough sketchy bad people in my life to have a good filter right away for someone trying to get something from me with bad intentions. It’s a combination of body language, speech and what they are saying. I felt that she was telling the truth, and she was. Here I am alive, well and with all my possessions.
Emerald fell into what is considered temporary homelessness. This is more common in America than we would like to actually believe. Here is a prime example (story was stolen from somewhere else I think).
She had accidentally moved into a cheap shared room with someone she considered to be sexually abusive and threatening. She told me that after giving a hefty deposit, rent and moving in, the guy became a pervert and started to masturbate in front of her without any warning or consent, knowing she was dating someone. I could go into the gritty details, but you get the idea. She didn’t want to stay there, let alone leave her stuff here.
Ah! You’re thinking, she is dating someone, why doesn’t she stay with them? Her partner was also homeless temporarily staying at a friend’s cramped space and they didn’t really have room.
Why can’t she afford something else? She couldn’t, like most low-wage workers in America, she didn’t exactly have that much savings for a rainy day. I let her stay in my spare room with a spare bed, on the following conditions: No guests and can’t be here when I’m not home. Sounds fair right?
She started saving up money to find a cheap efficiency or studio to rent with her significant other. Things seemed to be going well, she could still get to/from work, look presentable, eat and sleep in a warm place.
Then a few days later, she lost her job. I could tell she started going into a downward spiral of depression, like anybody else would in a situation like this. She had been having trouble keeping a job for more than a few months, and was trying to save up money to get back to college to finish a Nursing degree.
On top of that now her car needed new brakes since the rotor was being scratched, talk about bad luck. With a whole ~$300 to her name, she can’t exactly blow half of it to pay someone to fix them. She eventually did it over the course of a few days with help for about $50.
Her future looked pretty bleak, she would spend part of the time she was with me venting about her current situation, previous jobs, and her past (I’m leaving out details on purpose). It was a bit heart breaking to see a near-complete stranger cry in front of you as she mentally accepted her current situation. To be honest, I don’t think I would have handled her situation as well as she did, I probably would have had a mental breakdown or suicidal thoughts. I think people who have been through some period of homelessness are stronger emotionally than most of people.
Take a short moment and really think about if you were to lose the shelter you’ve always had, became homeless and the emotions that would be going through your head.
Being homeless in the streets, means dealing with the fact that nobody can or is willing to help you have a warm shelter to sleep in and playing with the idea in your head that everyone around you is against you, every night, and every single waking minute. It’s a very dehumanizing, bleak outlook at other people around you. It’s no wonder many turn to alcohol, marijuana and harder drugs like LSD or much worse ones like Heroin to cope with this.
She’s been living with me for almost two weeks and she has finally mustered up enough money with her significant other to temporarily rent a really cheap hotel (~$100 a week if I remember right) while they get back on their feet. Now, please don’t misunderstand her as a freeloading couch-surfer. She offered to cook, clean and do errands for me while she was here. I refused all of them, since I wanted her to focus on improving her situation.
Now like most of us, we’ll probably be enjoying a nice thanksgiving in a warm home, with overwhelming amount of food that we probably won’t be able to finish. People in her situation won’t. Except her, as a parting gift, she’ll get to enjoy a nice thanksgiving dinner out of my pocket.
Sometimes, if we open our doors and hearts to strangers in need we would realize that they are not weak, lazy, bad or [insert stereotype here]. They are in fact stronger than us in many ways.
To end on a happier note, just remember
“Be excellent to each other. ”
And please help out at your local homeless shelter or services.