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Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Face of Homelessness: Part 3 "Homeless Shoes"



The say goes, "You want to know a man's life, walk a mile in his shoes." It's a quote about empathy and understanding. It couldn't ring more true in my life right now. I could never in a million years understand the life of a homeless person. Most of my life I never thought I would have to. My parents made me volunteer in nursing homes, ride through the ghetto, and give back, I thought I understood. I never I'd give a first hand view of what it means to be homeless.



I grew up a spoiled Navy Brat my parents will say, given everything my heart desired. I finished high school, went to college, even did the unimaginable and became a television reporter. I dated hot men, wore name brand clothes, ate in fancy restaurants, and I volunteered when I had the time. In my eyes, homelessness would not be apart of the Good Girl Chronicles story ever. But it is. May 23, 2017 will mark a year of homelessness. In this most revealing, difficult, and raw blog series I'll share with you some of what I've had to endure this year. It is heart breaking, sad, inspiring, and I hope life- changing to anyone who doesn't think things are going to ever get better. While my journey in these shoes is not over, I will tell you like Job, God has given me the strength to endure it.


"Homeless Shoes"


Fast cars whiz past me. Occasionally, I'll hear a car horn honk and a man yells t me. I am not amused. I keep walking. The heels of my feet are sore and throbbing. Some days I can barely walk two blocks without stopping. I've got to get a doctor soon. My purse is on one shoulder, the luggage bag on the other is applying pressure to my already tender shoulders. Beads of sweat are forming on my forehead, back, and under arms. I am tired, but there is no where to rest. No money for coffee, no car to drive so I keep walking.
 

Some days these walks are under a blistering sun. Some days they are in the cold wind, pelting rain with puddles under my feet. I keep walking. I have a tender, young face so some days when I'm in the nice part of Chesapeake I'll go to a local bookstore and blend in. People never feel threatened by me when I'm in the corner sipping on a coffee with my bags tucked beneath my chair. The days when I'm in South Norfolk (a crime ridden, drug infested part of Chesapeake) where homelessness is more apparent there are few places to blend in. Each store front says 30 minute sitting time, no loitering, no bathing in the bathrooms. I have nowhere to go but to walk. Before this life, I never knew how hard it is to find shelter during the day for homeless people. How hunger pangs feel with no money or how low your self esteem is when people gawk at you with your life on your back. One day myself and some others homeless people were rudely told to leave a McDonald's even though I always buy something when I come in. We're shuffled out like herd and yelled at.

 
The treatment in restaurants at times can be humiliating. Business owners yell, scream, and subject you to all kind of names when all I want is a place to rest my feet, a place away from the men whistling at me outside. 

I understand that a lot of these establishments feel homeless people lounging in their dining areas makes customers uncomfortable. I've seen some homeless people beg, some come in drunk, or worse. It's a tough situation for both parties, but I've never felt so inferior in my life.

 
One morning, I walked up to the McDonald's counter to get a coffee and plan my next move. The moment I approached the counter with my luggage and purse in hand, the cashier rolled her eyes.
 
"What do you want?" she barked. I sheepishly ask for a hot chocolate, and pay with my debit card. When's she done making the drink she hands it to me, and rolls her eyes. 

"You won't get to drink that long? That's the mean manager," a man says to me. I think of the days in my former life when I could sit in a Starbucks for hours sipping a dark roast, reading, and writing. No one said a word about how long I stayed or what was in my bag. Those were the days I wasn't a homeless woman. Now it seems I'm not worthy of respect in a business establishment or kindness to let me rest my feet. Just as the man said, the manager came over and herded us out. It is 7:00 a.m. where am I going to go.

I gulp down my hot chocolate as fast as I can, and head out the door with the others. Homelessness is a problem almost every city in Hampton Roads has, but few address publicly. An old library in South Norfolk that once offered shelter to people during the day is rumored to be closing next year for a police station. Church members would open the old library on days when the weather is below 32 degrees in the winter. During that time, homeless people can come in and have lunch, watch a movie, and stay out of trouble. I've rested my head a few afternoons there, and while I don't want to spend another winter homeless I'm sad the old library won't be there.

 I've been thinking about what I'll do if I'm ever out of this homelessness. This experience has been so impactful, I'm not sure what I will do, but I have to do something.


Where Am I Gonna Sleep Tonight?

There are a lot of tough things about being homeless, the thing that worries me most nights is my sleeping arrangements. I'm fortunate in that I haven't experienced street homelessness yet. I have never had to sleep behind a library, under a bridge, in a box, a shed, or an abandoned house. I've met a lot of people who have to live that type of homelessness, and the hardness of it sticks to them. You can see it on their dust and dirt speckled faces. It lingers in their body odor from weeks without a shower. Street homelessness even seems to age you faster. I've met women in their 50's who are wearing an added 20 years on their skin and eyes. Street homelessness opens you up to so many dangers; sexual assault, drugs, violence, arrest. I am thankful that is not a walk I've had to endure.

For the first few weeks of my homelessness I couch surfed from friend to friend. Every time things got awkward or uncomfortable or if they had to give me the boot it almost always changed our relationships. I was bitter because I had no money and no place to go. They were exhausted from caring for someone with so little to give in return. In the beginning, I slept under an office desk where I was renting space. I took baths in the sinks before the other professionals arrived, and put on a brave face during office hours. When that ran out I met men on Tinder who gave me a place to crash, shower, and collect my thoughts. They almost always wanted something from me. After a while I felt cheap and used.

I sold my amazing, lush condo in Chesapeake to prevent foreclosure. My parents did all they could during that time to have me put away ( a painful experience I'm not yet ready to face let alone write about). For most of the winter I couch surfed, rented hotels with donations from friends, slept in my car when I had it, and just prayed there was some end in sight. When I ran out of friends to call and couches to stay on, I had a revelation. YOU ARE HOMELESS AND THERE IS NO END IN SIGHT.

The realization hit like a ton of bricks in a Chesapeake Community Services office this past January. In order to pay off a traffic violation I got, I had to complete community service. With no car or money, I was in the community service office to beg for an extension on my deadline. A lovely woman named Kim, came back in the office as I sat there swallowing my reality.

"Here's that coffee you asked for honey. Now let's see if we can get you an extension," she said. Her kindness was more than I could bare. I raised the warm coffee cup to my lips and felt hot tears streaming down my face.

"What? Are you crying? Why," she asked.

"I'm homeless and......." I could barely talk. "This is the nicest anyone has been to me all day."

For almost a half hour Kim sat with me, making phone calls, reaching out to her contacts, and encouraging me. Being homeless can make you feel so alone, so when someone even tries for a moment to empathize it is comforting. In the matter of an hour, Kim was able to help me get an extension, and she lead me to an emergency shelter where I found a warm place to land.

to be continued...........

In time I'll be sharing my painful year in recovery and in homeless in my first memoir. There will be more raw, personal stories, and hopeful some healing for me. If you'd like to support me, my memoir, or just feel lead to give, I have a GOFUNDME PAGE CALLED WWW.GOFUNDME.COM/TEAMGOODGIRL.

I feel lead to share my story for so many reasons......my own healing and release.... and hopefully yours too.

LOVE YOU, LOVE GOD MORE
LAUREN HOPE AKA LOLO