I have experienced bouts of homelessness over this past year which I’m both ashamed to say and feel is important to talk about. I remember growing up my mom would exclaim, “you look like a homeless!” whenever my hair looked unkempt or if I carried a lot in my shoulder bag. Now looking back, that statement was simultaneously working as a reprimand, deterrent and ill-fated prediction.
No parent wishes for their child to become homeless, in fact it seems that most of our efforts as human beings is to avoid it at all costs. The mark of a responsible and moral citizen seems to be the ability to pay for your own shelter. And those who have trouble doing so, well, there’s something wrong with them. What’s wrong with those people? Can’t they just go out and get a job? Make some use of themselves and do something positive?
Before I experienced my recent and on-going transient status, I was working 7 days a week, juggling multiple part-time jobs and gigs in addition to writing and voluntarily operating a youth program. Twelve hour days were my norm. And I enjoyed being that productive.
Then when the pandemic shutdown happened, I had to slow down. I worked less and reflected more, which is what I needed. I also soon became physically ill, a condition that had flared up under the stress, leaving me largely bed-bound. Thankfully I was able to medically address the issue over time and recover, coming out the other side with a newfound focus on my well-being.
This focus on my well-being included my mental health, for which I took the action to move out on my own after having rented the same room in someone’s home for almost 10 years. It soon became clear that I could not afford to get my own place, the housing prices forcing me to live with others or be homeless. So I did a bit of both, mostly staying with friends and family or renting a temporary room, with occasional days of staying outdoors.
It is a humbling experience to not have a stable place to live. The uncertainty of this nomadic existence is one that I give respect to the ancestors, but one that doesn’t work in our modern society, unless you’re traveling for work. And maybe in some way, I was.
While I recognize the value I can extract from the experience, I don’t wish homelessness on anyone. The most basic rights that we are entitled to as human beings are food, clothing and shelter. And unfortunately, this shelter part is eluding millions of us.
I spend the night inside
and outside a 24-hour laundromat,
watching the kind of customers
who do their laundry at 3:00am
avoid looking me in my eyes
me a woman wearing a hoodie,
pulling a large suitcase
with nowhere to go
do they know I am a teacher
and does that even matter
when I am without home
I keep walking back
for the warmth, the light, the wifi
and the sound of each cycle turning
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