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“What It’s Really Like to Be Homeless During the Holidays”

December 13, 2015

It is difficult to fathom how hard for anyone to see people as individuals and not as groups or economic social classes.  This is the single most difficult challenge to regard the other as you.  Not as an object to be patronized, or feel sorry for, but as a person with a story.  This is really what public will building is all about seeing our neighbor, the person in the community as me.  We all come from some place.  We all have the basic need for trust, safety, friendship, love,  connecting with others is a primordial part of our constitution.  When we break down the barriers of seeing others as distinct and apart then we can understand the trauma and effectively diminish the suffering and pain,  “of being out on your own with no direction home like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone.”

What It’s Really Like to Be Homeless During the Holidays

 

 


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People become homeless in myriad ways and have vastly different experiences with homelessness depending on their location, health, and connections. This is one in a series of interviews with homeless women about their personal experiences.

At the age of 30, Mary* left her husband after she’d been feeling neglected for a long time. Since she stopped working and going to school when she got married at 21, she had no money of her own or job training. Still, she moved with her 3-year-old daughter to her hometown of New York City and started living in a shelter. Now 31, she spoke with Cosmopolitan.com about her experiences being homeless with her daughter during the holidays.

My husband and I had been having problems for a long time and eventually I’d just had enough. We’d been together for almost ten years, but his family never accepted me. My husband has always been very influenced by what his family thought and whenever they were around, he would distance himself from me. Sometimes he’d hardly talk to me and eventually he wouldn’t even sleep in the same bed with me and it would make me very depressed.

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Years later when we had our daughter, I started having postpartum depression and really needed his support, but he made me feel like I was a nuisance. I also had Lupus but I didn’t know it at the time. So I was dealing with depression, but I was also losing my hair, losing weight, having problems with arthritis, and feeling tired all the time. He wasn’t there for me through any of that, so I started preparing myself to leave him. He never believed I would really do it and continued to act like he didn’t care if we left. He even offered to pay for the ticket to New York City, “Who cares if you leave. I’ll pay for the ticket.” That just motivated me to leave even more because I couldn’t believe that he didn’t care if he lost us.

We moved to New York City around the holidays [October 2014], and it was very lonely. I was terrified, but I also felt free. My daughter and I went straight a shelter. When you’re in a shelter, you are constantly reminded that you’re only staying there temporarily and you need to get your life back on track in a timely manner. All I could think was, “I can’t believe this is my life. I’m in this shelter. I’m far away from my family. What am I going to do? How long am going to be here?”

I knew moving to New York City would be hard because I didn’t have any money and I don’t even have a high school diploma. I gave up work and school and everything else when we got married, which I was fine with, but now I am not qualified for any of the jobs I’d want to have. I hear stories from people I went to middle school with and they all have careers and I’m back to zero. It’s depressing.

My sister, who lives in New Jersey, knew I was living in the shelter and tried to help me out. Sometimes she would take my daughter on the weekends so I could have some time to myself. She’d also offered to have me live with her, but she had a one-bedroom apartment with two children and my grandmother was also sleeping there. I knew that was an option, but it wasn’t a great one.

On Thanksgiving day, I had my daughter stay with my sister because I didn’t want to be around my family. I couldn’t handle being around a bunch of people who would judge me for my choices and blame me for putting my daughter in a shelter. I ended up going to a friend’s house nearby, but they didn’t cook or anything.

That first holiday in the shelter was lonely and depressing because it just became a time to reflect on the what I needed to do in the short term. It was also upsetting to think that the next morning I had to go back to the shelter where I didn’t even have keys to my own room. It was really hard feeling like nothing is really yours at a time when everyone else is supposed to be thankful for what they have. I also started to get really sad because my daughter wasn’t with me and she no longer had both of her parents, which is what she was used to. I ended up just drinking alcohol to try to tune out everything in my life. I went back to the shelter the next morning.

When Christmas Eve came that year, I was actually kind of happy. My 19-year-old niece flew in and I spent the day with her and our family. I loved seeing my niece because I’ve always been like a mother to her. She was one of the only people in my entire family who asked me how the shelter was and if I was OK. She also asked me how my daughter was and how the people were. My sister didn’t ask any questions like that. She and I never really had that connection, and I knew she judged me for staying in the shelter. My grandmother was there too but she and I always had a distant relationship, even though she raised me. She never asked me any questions either and I don’t think she really cared about what was happening to me. Having my niece there asking me questions and seeming happy to be around me meant so much. I don’t know how many times we hugged each other that night, but it was a lot.

My sister got my daughter presents, so she was really happy and had fun with her cousins. Seeing my daughter so happy meant everything to me. But on Christmas day, everything was back to normal. I was sad about having to leave my niece and I knew I had to go back to the shelter that night.

This past Thanksgiving in the shelter was much better than the first one was. I brought my daughter to see my cousin and her children and my sister brought her kids as well. I’d also started dating someone a few weeks before Thanksgiving who I met outside the shelter and I wanted to introduce him to my family. We’re not close, but I still wanted them to meet him.

At this point, the shelter really feels like home. It’s not perfect, but it’s where I’m at right now and I’ve accepted it. My daughter’s father finally moved over here and he lives in New Jersey now, so it’s easier for her to see her dad, which is good for her. Last year around the holidays I was still in a heavy depression and it was hard being around my family who didn’t accept where I was at. Now that I’m feeling better emotionally, I just want to make the holiday as fun as I can for my daughter. My life might not be perfect yet, but I still love getting to spend time with the people I care about.

*Name has been changed to protect her identity. Coalition For The Homeless helped coordinate this interview. Coalition For The Homeless believes that affordable housing, sufficient food and the chance to work for a living wage are fundamental rights in a civilized society.

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