The next shelter operated under a church…The temperature’s generally cold in there so we stayed layered up with jackets. We all lived in a room right beside the church. They welcomed us to the deserted early morning service but nothing else. We were under strict orders not to talk to the congregation. We weren’t allowed to interact. In fact, we had to stay as far away from them as possible, especially during service. They were afraid of us. They were afraid of a bunch of homeless people wandering around their church. It made them nervous. They couldn’t tell the homeless people there were all families. They couldn’t distinguish between us and dirty vagabonds on the corner drinking and swearing…The shower wasn’t in the building where we slept, though. Some genius put it across the parking lot. We could only take showers at designated intervals, those slots mainly around service times where more staff could monitor us. To take a shower, we had to strip down to meager towels and walk across the parking lot to the shower building with everyone around watching. Without a doubt one of the most embarrassing things I had ever done. I couldn’t begin to describe the humiliation all those cold eyes feeling sympathetic toward us, glad we were unfortunate and not them, it made me feel so bad. It didn’t make sense to me why we had to strip down to our bare essentials. I think they said an incident had happened which made them have to create such an embarrassing ordeal. They moved out of our path, far enough so we couldn’t touch them, but hovered around us close enough to get a good view….They made the ordeal even worse. They just kept staring. No smiles, no friendly conversation, just relentless attention. They didn’t whisper about us, they just silently watched.
This memoir covers the latter part of my homeless journey, ranging from age fourteen to seventeen, predominately my high school years. The horror of my homelessness is what I call it. Allow me to take you down my path and to walk in my footsteps along my own hellacious underground railroad. If you are reading this in the midst of your own overwhelmingly challenging journey, it is you for whom I write….It is you whom I urge not to quit. I know your pain and through my pain, I wish to give you strength. For everyone else reading this, please understand my story is only one of millions of other homeless people.
Listen to the land, listen to one another. Slow down and reach into the uncomfortable spaces ignored for centuries. Touch the wounds in our hearts and the earth. Show up with courage. Set down dominion. Step with kindness. It’s not complicated, really. Just watch the dancers. Follow the circle.
We had been taught not to look back. We had been trained to disconnect from family and our homelands. We had swapped our stories for a dream. To survive we need to find, and then share, our interlinking stories.
I’ve never been able to explain the phenomenon of adults loving Santa, but I have a theory that seeing me jogs happy memories. I think a lot of us wish we could be children again, becoming breathless with Christmas excitement and believing with all our hearts that wishes can come true. I know I do! I think every grown-up wants to recapture that sense of wonder, even for a moment. And that’s exactly what Santa Claus allows them to do.
“Every child is special, every child is important, and every child deserves our respect. No child’s opinions or ideas should ever be stifled or ignored. Because ultimately, as Santa knows, the smallest among us can sometimes make the biggest difference.”