The men sit up front. The women sit in the back.

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!



Finding Home

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“Ok,” privately I thought the rule outdated but not wishing to make waves and sensitive to how tenuous my situation was made me willing to comply.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.

Next week:  Part 3 of Jaime’s story.

Stay in touch

Receive weekly tips from Ryan about how to work with homeless, addicted and mentally ill patrons.