Why I’m Planning to Move Into a Homeless Shelter

My law date, or eviction date, for my foreclosure is coming up in early May. I have been fretting for nearly three years about this.

I’ve asked family, friends, counselors, ministers and total strangers (via advertisements) for suggestions about housing. And I haven’t come up with much.

My ten-year-old son is safe at boarding school — he has a scholarship. My thirteen-year-old daughter has been invited to stay at a neighbor’s until the school year ends.

But no one has offered a place for me to stay (thanks, Mom).

Then, within one week, two different people independently suggested that I stay in a homeless shelter. I’m going to try it.

The first to make this suggestion was a guidance counselor at my daughter’s middle school. He told me that he and his wife are now struggling to pay his son’s college tuition. When they applied for financial aid, there was a category asking them to indicate whether they had ever stayed in a homeless shelter. He figures that if he could have said “yes” in this category, it would have put his family into a whole new level of college financial aid.

The next guy, in the same week, was an elderly gentleman who owns a moving company. I had asked for an estimate for moving and, of course, storage, for our upcoming foreclosure.

I am pretty fraught about all of our stuff. In our peripatetic lives, this stuff has come to represent home to me and my two kids. I know that my daughter doesn’t seem upset about staying with friends, but when faced with the prospect of putting her bed in storage she gets tearful. I don’t want to lose all of my stuff on top of all of my other woes.

But neither do I want to pay for storage and for schlepping a bunch of crap that has just become a burden. So the moving company owner takes a look around my house and says, “You have nice things. You don’t want to lose your things. Put them in storage and you’ll see – things will turn around for you.”

I was verklempt. The moving guy proceeded to tell me about how he hit a rough patch in the 1980s: he lost everything and ended up having to stay in a homeless shelter.

He told me that the homeless shelter experience turned things around for him. It wasn’t so bad, he said, and it somehow gave him the courage to recover. He had hit bottom, and it wasn’t so scary. It helped him overcome his fear.

The one odd thing he he told me is that he had to pay a friend $100 to get him into the shelter. This is a puzzler I will have to investigate.

So that’s financial aid for my kids’ college and overcoming fear for me.

Third thing: It will be cost effective. Obviously.

Fourth thing: I am a writer, and this is a great chance for me to gather empirical evidence. What is it really like to live in a homeless shelter? Will I get bed bugs? Lice? Where will I put my stuff and/or will it get stolen? Where does one shower? Is it a bunch of cots in a big room or some other kind of arrangement? What is the bathroom situation like? How scary are the other inhabitants? Is there television? If so, any movie channels?

When I tell people I’m planning to stay in a homeless shelter they recoil in horror. Especially my friends in New York City, who are probably imagining some kind of horrific urban warehouse of lost souls – an Armory in Bed Stuy or Harlem, perhaps. And they immediately bring up my kids. How could you do this to your kids?

I remind them that I am, at least for now, in Connecticut. Connecticut has plenty of urban stuff but it ain’t New York. I remind them that my kids will be at a) boarding school and b) a neighbor’s house, not in the shelter with me. I tell them that my kids are actually pretty savvy, and will totally get it and not be traumatized by the fact that I will choose to go to a homeless shelter for a few days or even a week.

I’ll be like Ted Conover in Rolling Nowhere except that instead of being a young, virile college student I’ll be a frumpy, middle-aged single mom with a bunch of prescription bottles.

I’m going to have to consult with the professionals (social services, etc.) about this plan. I’m concerned that I might not be permitted to enter a shelter, because I still have some money left in my 401k or some other technical glitch. I don’t qualify for welfare, so I might not qualify for a shelter. I do qualify for Medicaid though.

I’m on my way down, streamers trailing along behind me.

Kathryn Higgins’s new book of  humor, Snide Remarks in Sotto Voce, is available at most ebook outlets through Smashwords. ...read more


Follow Us