I had a crash course in homelessness and shelter-seeking recently. A family with whom I have been involved for about 3 years now became homeless September 1 because of the complicated world of section 8 housing. This led to a frantic scurry of putting most belongings into storage then crashing at a friend’s home. But you know the adage about guests and fish…they both go bad in 3 days…having 4 stressed guests in a small apartment already holding 4 others didn’t end up well. By the end of September, having lived at another friend’s home for a few days, our family was out on the street, and out of options.
I figured this out when I got a text at 3:45am: “Ms Becky, do you think I could take a shower at the Peace House? It’s been a few days since I had one and I smell. I am embarrassed to go to school.” A younger sibling had received “a bird bath” in the bathroom at Wawa, but that wouldn’t do for the older kids. Quickly at UrbanPromise we formed a small care team, and our students took showers and we fed them breakfast, then I started calling shelters. “I’m sorry, we’re full.” “They don’t fit our criteria.” “They would need background checks and that takes 3 days.” “We are full.” “We are full.” “Sorry, we are full.”!! We tried to pull strings, calling the head of Volunteers of America. Could they find space? We were told to send Mom to downtown Camden, where we were promised she would be given a motel room if all the shelters were full.
One minor detail that was forgotten – she works – so she didn’t qualify for help!! Even though she only has 2 part-time jobs right now, had just enough money for food and the down payment she would need for a new home. That’s when I got angry for love (a favorite John Philip Newell quote of mine) – something I can feel again burning in my chest as I type this. Why don’t I read about all the shelters being full in the news? Why does someone get penalized because they work? How many families are out there like this that don’t have a place like UrbanPromise helping them? This was crazy.
We let them stay for a few days in the Peace House. That’s not what it’s meant for, and we were lucky that we are currently low on professional interns and happened to have the room. I finally found a church that provides shelter from 7p-7a in a near by town – although one county over, so there was concern about crossing the county line. And the new section 8 house was supposed to be available on October 17…but a call last week pushed it back to this weekend.
There is so much going on beneath the radar of those of us who live in stable conditions. My stress level was off the wall, and I have a roof over my head, full belly…and I don’t smell because I have ready access to my daily shower. Imagine functioning well in society without all that. What a challenge.