The following is the final installment of an essay written by Jaime L. Benshoff about her experiences being homeless.
If you want to read the earlier parts, you can find them here:
- Part 1: A cup of hot water costs 27 cents, unless…
- Part 2: The men sit up front. The women sit in the back.
- Part 3: My street dad was a Vietnam Vet
- Part 4: Christmas lights do not dispel darkness. They reveal it.
- Part 5: Are you homeless?
Have a great week!
Part 6 of 6
By Jaime L. Benshoff
When I was notified that I had won my disability case and that it was enough to help me find an apartment, like my shoes I hugged the secret to myself. It gave me permission to dream, and I wanted to guard that.
I contacted Homeward Bound, an agency that helps the homeless with every aspect of taking steps out of homelessness and into housing. My caseworker was a guy named Robert who drove me to appointments to apply for being on the waiting list at the apartments I found. Affordable housing is in high demand and the reality of staying longer in the shelter while waiting for something to open up was harsh. Months went by and I patiently researched affordable apartments then applied.
I have a life skill of consistent effort, i.e., find what works and repeat it ‘til it pays off. When something doesn’t respond to this approach I have no game, instead I double down, applying more consistent effort. Well, homelessness doesn’t respond to time management. There is an art to being opportunistic, of listening to the moment and staying open.
To be successful at getting out of the shelter I would have to cultivate that art. When I heard there were some new apartments being built, I seized the day and applied for one. It was June and the construction wasn’t going to be completed ‘til the fall. I applied anyway.
Back at the homeless shelter I continued searching for a place to live. When I was notified by the property manager of the apartments under construction that my application had been approved, did I want to come pick one out, I nearly shouted my response, “Oh yes!”
My case worker drove me to the construction site office. I was disappointed I couldn’t get a look at what the apartment would be like, the site was hard hat only. I had to use the blueprint to pick out one and trust my sense of direction that I would have a view of the mountains.
Finally, the moving day was here. Going from a shelter with nothing to my name but a Hefty garbage bag, to furnishing my new home meant relying on donations. The advice I got from a social worker was to envision three scenes I wanted to have in my apartment, so I set about doing just that. I wrote the scenes down and from those vignettes I was able to compile a list of things I would like donated from the shelter’s secondhand store.
A local moving company donated a truck and young men with strong backs to pick up my furnishings from the secondhand store and gently carry them into my apartment. I tried practicing saying, “my apartment,” the concept was so new to me after over a year in the homeless shelter and 9 months living on the street.
When I met with the property manager, signed my lease and collected my keys I realized I didn’t even have a key ring since I’d had neither a home nor a car, nothing to keep keys to. I took the elevator upstairs and put my key in the lock. Would I like it?
Then I flashed on the dorm room at the homeless shelter where 14 women were crammed into bunk beds and had no privacy at all and I decided at that moment that I would like it, come what may.
The door swung open, and I entered a beautiful new space with flooring that coordinated with the walls and kitchen cupboards and the windows had, as I had hoped, a clear view of the Seven Sisters, the name of that particular mountain range.
I could see the moving truck pull up from the window, so I made my way down the steps to meet them. The truck contained a couch, dining room table and chairs, a combination TV stand and bookshelf, and a circa 1970’s floor lamp. For a bed I opted to buy new instead of one of the donated ones.
From a charity that helps the homeless I received a laundry basket with new towels and washcloths, a shower curtain and matching bathmat, and an assortment of cleaning supplies. From Homeward Bound I received a storage bin of kitchen supplies from egg turners and spatulas to silverware, plates, drinking glasses, paring knives, dishcloths and dish towels, coffee mugs, a cutting board, mixing bowls and measuring cups. From the shelter’s thrift store, I had picked out a coffee pot, microwave and crockpot. It was a wealth I did not expect.
My first night I took a bath and then sat on my new-to-me couch and made a list of thank you notes I would need to send.
* * *
So, I celebrated a year of living in my apartment. For my second half of life, I will continue to pay my rent, live within my means and stay on my medication while living sober. I am grateful for the social programs that allow someone like me to live a productive and useful life.
Homelessness was a life passage, a tale of financial ruin made worse by a persistent and chronic mental health condition. Today I volunteer for the Homeless Coalition, a group of representatives from local businesses, government agencies, schools, and churches; any organization that touches the homeless. My contribution is lived experience, showing others how there is a way out.