I got an email recently from a woman who had written an essay about her experiences being homeless.
It was incredibly well-written and brutally honest. I knew immediately that you need to read it!
I hope it touches you the way it touched me…
Part 1 of 6
By Jaime L. Benshoff
I woke up that day in the doorway of a library adjacent to a police station. I had hidden my shoes in the bottom of my sleeping bag so they wouldn’t be stolen. The chilly morning air greeted me as I pulled back the covers.
First order of business for the day was to find a bathroom and then a resource for free hot water. I had my own instant coffee that I had purchased with food stamps. I rolled up my sleeping bag and placed it with my other belongings in a large Hefty garbage bag, then brushed my teeth and used a bottle of water to rinse. I spit into the gutter near the street.
The weight of my garbage bag was familiar to me, and I enjoyed the walk up to the nearby grocery store. I was hoping it was at least 6 a.m. and that the store would be open. I didn’t own a watch or have a phone, so I depended on my rhythms of sleeping and waking to keep me on track.
Hurray! I saw customers going in, so I knew the store was open. Once inside I used the bathroom then got a paper cup of water from the drinking fountain and used the courtesy microwave to heat the water up. A cup of hot water costs 27 cents but if I saved the cup I could make the initial purchase, and my tiny amount of cash, last for several days.
Once the microwave had done its work and the water was hot enough to my liking, I took a seat in the café and dived into my Hefty bag to locate my instant coffee. I had purchased the brand that came in a plastic container; homeless people don’t carry glass, too easy to get broken. I reused a plastic spoon and measured two scoops, appreciating the scent wafting up as the crystals dissolved. I relished my coffee then, sitting back and sipping the scalding hot liquid. I people watched: professionals buying a box of donuts for the office, an elderly couple comparing whole wheat loaves of bread, another homeless man I recognized who was stuffing deli meat and cheese into the pockets of his jacket, probably shoplifting. He looked high, his eyes had a glassy look and if I would have been close enough I would have seen his pupils were pinpoints. I remembered he had the teeth of a meth user: missing and decaying. Some meth users shoot up in their gums once they can’t find a vein and the result is exactly what appeared to be happening to him. He also had facial scabs, another telltale sign.
The homeless man wandered out of sight & I quickly penned a note with his description, the empty backpack, the stuff in his pockets, then I gave it to one of the deli employees. In a few minutes I saw her talking to the security guard on duty. I had done enough. I finished my coffee, dived back into my Hefty bag for my jar of peanut butter and ate a spoonful. I used the same spoon I had stirred my coffee with and considered the remaining contents of the jar. It would be three days before my food stamps would replenish and eating was going to be a challenge.
Downtown the churches would feed the homeless and since I didn’t have enough for bus fare, that would mean an hour’s walk across town, carrying my Hefty bag.
I would need energy, so I ate another spoonful of the peanut butter, then cleaned the spoon with a paper napkin. I replaced the lid and packed up my things. I considered the paper cup and decided I could get one more day out of it.
* * *
It was 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon according to the church bells and I faced the walk back to the west side in 90-degree heat. I had eaten at the Church of the Red Door along with over one hundred other homeless individuals and families. Without warning as I turned on the road that led out of downtown, my brain turned on me and I was obsessed with the idea to jump when I crossed the bridge over the railroad tracks in order to kill myself. The hopelessness and futility of my situation engulfed me, and the sober, healthy part of my spirit was truly frightened that I would do it.
“Rat yourself out” was part of my practice of recovery, telling on myself when I felt the old tug of temptation to drink. It worked now to guide me to a homeless shelter where I could borrow the phone at the front desk and call the mobile crisis line to say I was suicidal.
When the mobile crisis unit found out where I was, they came out to transport me to a psych unit. Dazed at the speed of the intervention I submitted to their questions and procedures and found myself in a locked ward with a private room and a bed with both clean sheets and extra blankets. The next day I started on medication after an assessment and prepared myself for a long stay.