Give me shelter
We split into two groups, armed with flashlights and maps of the area, walking in the dark, looking for people who are sleeping outside, in vehicles or makeshift Shelters. This is my third time doing the homeless count, though tonight I feel exceptionally lucid and present to the task. There is a definite dejavu to this evening for me.
I’ve been here before, walking past houses, whose warm lights shine inside, apart from me. I am just a stranger and not welcome in there. I remember being scared as a teen on the street, looking for anywhere that signaled a refuge, somewhere safe for me to close my eyes to the peace of sleep.
Sometimes I’d try a garage door, and if it opened, there might be a place in a corner to curl up for a time. Maybe a basement door was even unlocked and no one would hear me if I laid on their couch…I took these risks, even hoping to be caught by someone kind who’d tell me I could stay. Feeling alone and desperate drives one to do unusual things.
We walk past vehicles and see which ones have steamed up windows and other signs someone is inside. Cars and vans were favorite place I used go to sleep. I’d try the back door of a van to see if it was unlocked. Many times there’d be blankets and a foamy, or maybe not, the floor was fine too.
A few times I was asleep and the person got in their vehicle, then they’d notice me when they put the key in the ignition. I’d run like hell, an unwelcome alley cat…
We walk up a slippery concrete stairway with wooded areas on either side, shining our flashlights into the brambles, peering in to the darkness, listening. A man’s cough somewhere in the dense bush tells us someone is there, we back out, leaving them in peace. He must be living in those woods. Is he alone? It’s so dark, muddy and cold. My spine tingles with some old memory.
Another man ambles towards three of us standing together under a buzzing street light. He is slowly walking, seemingly gauging if we are friend or foe. He gets closer and says hello as he keeps going past, then we see him sit in a dark stairwell. Maybe this is where he’ll catch a bit of rest. And knowing we are not people who will hurt him, he can close his eyes for a while. Tonight at least there’s no rain so he can rest in without a Shelter over his head.
A few minutes later we drive away and I wonder if he’ll get up and keep walking, having lost us as his sentry. The sun will be up soon anyhow and soon I will be safe in my bed, sleeping, but not this man.
Where will he go? What will he eat? Who cares about him? Who can he talk to? Where is his family? How did things get this way?
When I was homeless, Shelter and food were essentials that I learned to get however I could, even trading myself, my dignity, for what I needed, just to live.
People become desperate when they feel no one cares.
(If city leaders knew what it was like to be homeless, we would have more available housing for everyone. We need more flexible, low income, low barrier housing so there are no people living on the street or in their vehicles. Not having a home hurts everyone and we need our community leaders and policymakers to make housing for everyone a priority, not tomorrow, but now.)
Rebekah Demirel MPCC, L.Ac. is founder and director of Trauma Integration Programs a licensed East Asian medicine practitioner and acupuncturist and clinical counselor. A former paramedic and trainer for over 20 years, she also serves on the planning council for Seattle King County Healthcare for the Homeless. Her unique skills are informed by her own childhood and teen years spent on the street and in the foster care system. Here, in a crosscut article, she tells her story of those years.v(206.495.2227) http://www.lovethepoint.com/ http://www.traumaprograms.com/
- Special thanks to Rex Hohlbein for the photos: http://www.facinghomelessness.org/