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Sunday, December 4, 2022

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Home Featured The view from a homeless shelter

The view from a homeless shelter

I am employed. I am clean. I have been living in a shelter for three years. I can't even go home when I'm sick or tired. Will someone give me a chance?

A shelter is not a home.

Will someone please adopt me? Take me in?

I’m going to be 45 at the end of this month and I’m trying to wade through a bog of mid-life crises. Will I ever be happy again in this city?

A shelter is not a home.

I’m a special education teaching assistant at an elementary school (dreams of becoming a full-fledged teacher someday), and I live in a women’s homeless shelter. I’m so depressed. Even after three years of being “housing insecure,” as some institutions like to call it, I haven’t lost any sense of decency.

I don’t have first, last, and security deposit. I just have enough to start out paying one month’s rent for a decent room  where I can close the door at least. To share a bathroom, if I must, with just a few people at most who clean up after themselves.

I need peace. The space to cry. And if it’s a cold, rainy weekend day, I want to be able to sleep in, stay in, enjoy warmth without being woken up with fluorescent McDonald’s-esque lights at 6am and kicked out at 7am to be thrown into the harsh cold of a ghost town of homeless people wandering the streets looking for a cafe to try and warm up in, not pay too much, and feel justified to be there, accepted, and try to wait and while away the time in a daze for hours until places open.

I am so sick of housing waiting lists and waiting lists to get on more waiting lists, and feeling rejected because of my credit report, when I know I can pay one month’s rent at the beginning of each month, if the rent is around $1,000 a month. My credit report is like a death sentence. Rental applications scare me. My rental history? It consists of staying in a women’s shelter on and off for three years.

I used to have my own apartment in this city for a long time, before lay-offs and few and far between freelance gigs back in the advertising industry. I used to feel like I belonged here, in this city that now makes me feel like the loneliest person in the world. And having a therapist and being on antidepressants isn’t enough.

I can’t breathe being homeless. Every evening when I’m on my way to the shelter and every morning when I wake there, I feel like crying rivers. It’s welled up inside me and I can’t express it because I have to stay tough in that environment, and I don’t want to go insane.

When I’m so tired after a long day’s work, I can’t immediately go home to lie down. I have to wait until the shelter opens. If I’m feeling sick at work or just need a personal day to rest (because I can’t seem to get enough sleep, what with all the distractions, you just never know what to expect), I can’t just go home and get in bed. I can’t lie down until the shelter opens. I’m at the mercy of the shelter’s hours.

I don’t know a way out. It depresses me so much that sometimes it clouds my thoughts when I’m at work, when I need to be present with the kids. The kids. What makes me happy. What helps me keep on living. I have friends, a few who know I’m homeless, and most who don’t because I don’t want them to think any less of me.

I just want a decent home, not transitional housing. I want to be around normal again. Invite friends over for tea. Have my friends’ children come over to spend time with me, in a normal place without scary roommates. I want to shop in the frozen food section again. Bake. Microwave. Cook. Clean. Have my toiletries waiting for me in the bathroom. Be able to stand naked in front of a mirror, not wrestle with clothing in a bathroom stall. Hang my clothes up and see them. All of them. Leave my backpack at home. Because my back hurts and even though I’m not one of the homeless who tote luggage and stuffed wheely carts, I feel self-conscious about looking homeless because my too heavy backpack (even when I’ve tried and tried to travel light) is oppressive and even if I don’t look homeless, I feel it, and it’s hard to shrug off.

Will someone please adopt me? Rent me a room without judging me? Meet me and know that you can count on a friendly, considerate, and respectful tenant?

I’m healthy. Never done drugs, not unless you count my antidepressants that aren’t addictive, just necessary for the time being. I’ve taken all the tests and shots necessary to work with children. I’ve passed countless background checks (despite my credit report), I’ve never gone to jail. I’m a Berkeley grad. I even dabbled in law school right after college. How normal and safe do I have to prove myself worthy enough to get a normal and safe home?

I’m just a very sad woman right now because of these horrible circumstances, a sad woman craving peace in San Francisco.

I want to live.