This article is in response to one written by Amy Murphy: Move Homeless Services Away From Downtown?
By Stephanie Thomas
It’s something we take for granted. We get up in the morning and take a shower. If we need to wash our hands we go to the sink. If we want to wash our clothes we put them in the wash. For people living on the street and in tents, getting clean and staying clean is not so easy. Fortunately, in Greensboro, we have the Interactive Resource Center on Washington Street. For people who are homeless, being able to go there and take a shower and wash clothes is a real blessing. Unfortunately, for people who live away from downtown, it can be difficult for them to get to the IRC, especially on a daily basis. In California Doniece Sandoval came up with a solution: She turned retired city buses into mobile shower units.
Quotes from people who are homeless…
“I am going to make something of my life. It might be rough but things will get better for me.” Quashana
“It’s as if I am looking through a window trying to reach the world on the other side.” Amanda
“I appreciate the little things in life and thank God for all he has given me.” Susan
“I never thought I would find myself in this situation at my age.” Karon
“All I can say is, if I can do it you can too. Be encouraged today. You can change if you want to.” Tony on his recovery from drug addiction
by Stephanie Thomas
I saw her standing on the corner. She was bundled up in a heavy coat, hat and gloves. It was a bitterly cold day. I had seen her a couple of times before but I was always too busy to stop and speak to her. This time wasn’t any different except that I decided that speaking to her was more important than getting my chores done on time.
I pulled into the parking lot of a restaurant that was across the street and made my way through the traffic to where she stood. She smiled when she saw me walking toward me.
I introduced myself and asked her about her day. She said she was cold and didn’t feel well.
“I have a lot of health issues,” she said. “My biggest problem is with the arthritis in my knees.”
“You are too young to have arthritis,” I said ,trying make her feel better.
“Thank you but I’m 55 years old.”
“What’s your name?”
“Where do you live Marsha?”
“I stay with friends mostly. I used to put homeless on my sign but people gave me a hard time about it. I try not to wear out my welcome. I stay quiet and to myself. I’ve stayed in hotels but I can’t afford to do that right now.”
She waved at a red SUV that passed us.
“That women gave me this hat and these gloves,” she said appreciatively.
“That was nice of her,” I said. “How do people treat you out here?”
“Some people are nice. Sometimes men give me money and then tell me they’ll give me more if I’ll come home with them. I know what that means. I’m not going to sell myself. I always tell them no. I’ve learned not to trust men. I’ve had problems with them. They start out nice but they always end up abusing me. The last man I was with beat me and made me feel terrible about myself. I wanted to leave him but he hid the car keys and took my phone so I couldn’t get away. One day, when he was sleeping, I found my phone and called my girlfriend to come and get me. That was 5 years ago. I’m still not over him.”
“You have had a rough time. I’m sorry you had to go through that. What about family? Is there anyone here who can help you?”
My parents and my brother passed away. I was close to them. It’s really hard for me at Christmas time. I miss them.”
Marsha doesn’t have a job. She was fired from her last job when there was a discrepancy in the cash drawer. That incident and her age make it unlikely that anyone will be willing to hire her. She isn’t old enough to get social security which means disability insurance is her only option, besides begging. She told me she has applied for disability insurance, but it takes at least 3 years to qualify.
There is a system in place to help people like Marsha. Unfortunately, the red tape is difficult work through, the process can be humiliating, and failure is more common than success. For someone like Marsha, who has been abused and is alone in this world, begging seems easier.
By Natasha Toussaint
On the first day of work orientation, I befriended Kenneth, a co-worker. Kenneth was always well-dressed, always in a good mood, and hysterically funny. He excelled in all of the training modules, and helped me when I had difficulties with the material. When we had settled into our work, I was able to rely on Kenneth to help me with work-related snags, and on occasion we ate lunch together.
Kenneth had a son who was a College Junior. Kenneth beamed with pride when he talked about him. He often said his son was his best friend.
One week, Kenneth was unable to get his usual ride home. He asked if I would take him. Later that week, after we finished taking care of some of his errands, I asked him if there was anywhere else he needed to go, like the grocery store, or if he would like to get something to eat. He said no and looked at his watch. I took the hint and asked if he would like me to drop him off at the library where I’d picked him up.
“No,” he replied. “You can drop me off at the Salvation Army. I’m homeless.”
I was stunned. Kenneth had been homeless for over 5 years due to a series of unfortunate life events.
In hindsight, I realized why Kenneth was more excited about the new job than the rest of us. For him the job meant change and stability. He hoped one day to get a place of his own.
Kenneth gave me the opportunity to change my perspective of homeless individuals. Homelessness is not a look, an attitude, behavior or a condition. Homelessness is a life situation that for a multitude of reasons can befall any of us, at any time.