Life After the Shelter

originally posted May 28, 2016


The previous post looked at homelessness; specifically my view of homelessness seen from personal experience. Today’s post takes the next step. Namely, is there life after the shelter?

So, I’ve hit the three and a half month mark since I left my temporary home. It’s time to evaluate. Is this really better than where I was? Let’s check out the pros and cons.

First of all, there’s no more sharing mats on the floor with several hundred other people. Even more importantly, the space around my bed is all mine now. I don’t have to share it with anyone. I am sharing a house with five other guys. But it’s a huge difference from the crowd I was used to, and within that space I have my own room. And when I go to the bathroom I can lock the door and there’s only me in it. I also know the toilet won’t be plugged when I need to use it.

Secondly, no more lineups. I may need to wait to get my turn at the kitchen from time to time but it’s not every day and I no longer play the mealtime guessing game. The “does anybody know what we’re having tonight” game. As long as my food donations hold up, I get to pick my own meals.

man pulling backpackAnother plus to life on the outside is I’m no longer dragging around heavy, well-packed backpacks or rolling suitcases because I actually have a closet for that stuff now. Now when I’m in public people don’t immediately write me off as homeless. Few things drag you down faster than knowing those who pass you on the street are either pitying you or desperately trying to pretend you aren’t around. Shelter people are an “in your face” reminder of things they don’t want to face. Now when I go out, people’s eyes meet mine instead of sliding away like I’m invisible.

So yes, I have to say this is definitely better than where I was. That might seem like a no-brainer because who wouldn’t choose to live in their own home, free from the stigma of homelessness. But I’ve learned from the experience that there are a lot of people who embrace the “safety” of shelter life. And not all of them are what society thinks of when they contemplate shelter people.

The average person who lives a fairly ordered, stable life often see the homeless as they’re portrayed on TV. Middle-aged to old men and women, scruffy, raggedy, unclean and unkempt. Teeth missing with a bottle of something unappealing shoved in a pocket that they suck on from time to time as they sit in a doorway.

Not always so. The broad spectrum of society rolled through that shelter. It was home to young men in their twenties, men who looked like they’d just come from “casual Friday” at the office, and even a couple who wore suits. Some of them just couldn’t face the uncertainty of trying to take care of themselves in a world that seems more uncertain and unstable by the day.

And while the lineups for everything from food to towels might seem very restrictive, sometimes that restriction can bring with it security. Like being wrapped in arms that keep you safe. And you’re surrounded by others who know exactly how you feel and sometimes there’s safety in that too. A commonality shared can bring with it a feeling of home.

So yes, there is life after the shelter. There’s also life within the shelter. It’s all in how you look at it.

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