The following is the second installment of an essay written by Jaime L. Benshoff about her experiences being homeless.
If you want to read part 1, click here.
Have a great week!
Part 2 of 6
By Jaime L. Benshoff
I was being discharged [from the psych unit.]
No, I didn’t want to go back to the streets. I had hit bottom, it was time to stop digging. There was a homeless shelter downtown that had an empty bed: did I want to apply for it?
And the staff in the psych ward arranged for a ride for me and my Hefty bag to the shelter. I was nervous when they dropped me off and I found my way inside. There, a man at the front desk took a copy of my driver’s license and gave me a form to fill out. He said I could go down the hall to the chapel to finish my paperwork.
The chapel was a large room with rows of white plastic folding chairs and a wooden lectern in the front. Behind it against the wall was a large cross probably six feet tall and it’s front and back were covered with individuals names and insignias like “James, saved 10/5/95,” a testimony to the street mission of the Pastor/Director to spread the gospel. There were some women seated in the back few rows, so I grabbed an empty chair up front to finish paperwork.
“Men in front, women in the back.”
I looked up. “Are you talking to me?”
“Yes,” said an overweight woman with a t-shirt on that revealed amply that she wasn’t wearing a bra. “The men sit up front and the women sit in the back. It’s one of the rules.”
“Ok,” privately I thought the rule outdated but not wishing to make waves and sensitive to how tenuous my situation was made me willing to comply. So, I moved.
“Leave your bag in the hallway,” another woman said, pointing to my Hefty garbage bag.
I froze: what if it was stolen?
The security guard appeared at the door, security guard being a loose term applied to one of the shelter’s male residents who worked in exchange for his bed, I was to learn later. Right now, he filled the doorway to the chapel with his lanky six foot frame. His mild voice was gentle, and I felt myself relaxing. “I watch the hallway, it won’t get stolen.” He’d anticipated my concerns.
I carried my bag into the hallway then and noted the backpacks and broken-down suitcases lining the hall; they had escaped my notice earlier.
Finishing my paperwork without further incident, I turned it in at the front desk. The man who worked behind the desk checked me in and said, “Wake up time is 5 AM, breakfast from 6 AM ‘til 6:20, curfew is 5 PM, everybody is in for the night. Dinner is served at 4:30 PM. They will come to get you to go to the women’s dorm at 5 o’clock so be waiting in the chapel with your things. Any questions?”
I didn’t know if it was a side effect of the psych meds I was on or the rawness of this new experience, but I felt dizzy. “No questions,” I forced myself to reply.
“You can stay in the chapel all day. Doors unlock for smokers at 7 AM. Your disciple will go over the other rules with you. Smoking area is to the right of the door. No smoking in the front of the building.”
“I don’t smoke,” I said and turned to go back down the hall. It was two hours before dinner so I would have time to get my bearings and digest this austere new world I found myself in. I had once read a study that said if you are homeless you can lose thirteen IQ points. With the fear and stress from the conditions of my new life I felt it was conceivable.