By Rhonda Bayless
In mid-August, I knew there was a possibility that we would be at risk for homelessness. Of course, we sought services and assistance but we learned that it’s easier to receive assistance for a utility bill than to get rental assistance, especially if you have some income. We prayed, we hustled, but we still became homeless. The back story of how we got here isn’t as important as experiencing homelessness itself. At 48, I’m couch surfing with my 25-year-old daughter and 5-year-old grandson. We have no home to call our own. It’s a place that I never thought I’d ever be in. I lived in my last place for over 15 years. I’m used to having a place to call home and it breaks my heart to hear my grandson ask if we’ve found a new home yet. Understand, by definition, we are not homelessness. Even though we don’t have our own place, we’re not on the street or in a transitional housing program. We’re on our second set of friends and looking for a third place for the next two weeks.
Beyond the humiliation and shame that initially comes over your spirit, you quickly discover how fast everything can become unglued. Trying to maintain employment, trying to eat healthy, and trying to get Amir to school, all have become challenges and with those challenges, your mental health becomes fragile and compromised. You question family and friendships. You question your own choices and decisions. You even question if you can turn it around. Homelessness like long term unemployment can impact multiple areas of your life so deeply that you will be forever changed whether you want to or not.
I’m sure that’s the spiritual purpose of these types of life episodes. Both myself and daughter are always seeking the spiritual lesson as some family and a few friends haven’t been as supportive as we’d hope. It’s always in your darkest hour when you see brightly the love people have for you. I was prepared. I had been unemployed for two years back in 2004 and it was hard to watch people pity you instead of support and encourage you. Today, I’m prepared but it doesn’t mean that I’m not having challenges. Homelessness has had deep implications on my health and I’ve only been homeless for five weeks. I now understand how it effects those who are experiencing long term and chronic homelessness.
We know this has been an on-going crisis for decades with those experiencing homelessness dropping a little bit each year. In the cases of most of our neighbors who are homeless, its coupled with other concerns like mental illness, unemployment, or substance abuse. Our veterans and people living with a disability are also at risk to being homelessness at some point in their lives because the risk of poverty being a co factor. I’ve notice how difficult it is to maintain a healthy diet, to schedule exercise, or even have a moment for meditation. All of those things seem like luxuries at this point. We take for granted the opportunity for self-care. As we continue to speak with our neighborhoods and friends about living healthier lives, we have to take into consideration is what we’re asking possible for them at the moment. In what ways can a family living a shelter think about self-care in a way that would make sense? As a think about how I can continue to do my work around women’s health, I’m challenged to rethink my approach in educating families about wellness.
As I continue to work diligently to get back to having stable housing, I’m grateful to have a few friends who have given encouragement, advice, and a helping hand. Empathy is meaningful. Not only do we need to know how to be empathic but also how to receive compassion even if we believe our friends may not fully understand what we’re going through. Receive the love with gratitude. What they don’t understand is okay. Any issue involving loss or lack is complex. We reduce poverty to a lack of finances or homelessness to a lack of affordable housing but it’s all very layered and multi-dimensional. Through experience, I’ve been given a gift of sympathy, of a lived experience, and of a new found insight to the deep and problematic issue of homelessness especially policy, funding, and education. This is a part of my story now and as I continue this hero’s journey, I’m blessed to know that this experience is not only for my own edification but will allow me to be more humbled servant to my community.