What is reality when you’re homeless?
What does it feel like to not have a home?
The reality of homelessness is, you do not have the resources to have a place to call your own. It means all your belongings, everything you own is lost, or in storage, waiting, hoping that soon, very soon, you will be able to open the boxes, unwrap the furniture and place them all where they belong in that place you call home.
While the reality of what homelessness means may be similar for all, the feeling is very different for each person.
It can feel scary. Lost. Frightening.
It cal feel like the world is unsafe, uninviting, unwelcoming.
It can feel desperate. Confusing. Unbelievably hard.
It can feel hopeless.
For a child, whose world view is seen through the lens of the experiences of their family, being homeless can be all those things and more. Because as a child, understanding is limited to the experience of your parents, the circle around you. And in family homelessness, where the adults are also feeling lost and scared and hopeless, the child feels the confusion and fear of not understanding what is happening to their parents, their world.
Why are they angry? Tense. Unusually abrupt, inpatient, tired all the time, cranky, and always there?
When we live at home, we do things that are part of our daily life without really thinking about the things we do.
We get up, make coffee, tea, breakfast. We let the dog out. Cat in. Wake the family. Get the children ready for school Make lunches.
The rituals of a daily life routine.
In homelessness, the children still get up to go to school. They still grab a bag of lunch and climb onto the school bus each morning and return every afternoon.
The difference is, they are doing this in the noise and chaos of a communal system. They are eating breakfast someone else prepared with 60 other children and their parents. They are waiting in a crowded lobby with 60 other children and their parents.
Perhaps, there was a new family who arrived last night. They don’t know anyone, and no one knows them.
Those children are even more frightened, more afraid because it is all new to them. The fear is maybe not yet so deep. The uncertainty not yet settled in because they’re still trying to figure out their new world order. And their parents are still trying to put on a good face for them. But it is scary none the less because they have figured out the fundamental difference in their world — they are not at home, or whatever the place was they called home yesterday.
They do know that this place is busy, crowded, noisy. And no matter how badly they want to quiet down the noise, to break away from the chaos, there is nowhere to go.
They are living in a homeless shelter.
What does that mean?
For some, the word ‘homeless’ is that word used to describe that old guy on the street who is sitting leaning up against a wall, head nodding forward as he dozes, an upturned cap on his lap, hopeful for a few coins to be dropped into it.
For some, homeless means the youth you saw on the C-train platform playing her guitar in exchange for coins dropped into the empty guitar case. You knew she was homeless because she had a sign your big brother read to you: “Please help. Homeless. Hungry. Playing for change.” Your brother called her a loser that day. Are you a loser now?
Homeless is that word that once was shorter and now, because you have to tack on the extra four letters, means your life is less than what it used to be.
And you wonder, how long will you be less a home? How long will you live this way?
To a child, now feels like forever. Will this homelessness last forever?
And you hope it doesn’t. Because more than anything, you miss having a bed to crawl into in the room you shared with your sister where, when the lights went out, you whispered in the dark, sharing secrets and stories of your day, safe in the knowledge your older siblings slept in the room next door and your parents were in the big room down the hall where you could patter to in your bare feet if a scary dream woke you in the night.
In this place, you share a bunk with your sister on top of the bunk where your parents sleep. In the rooms on either sound of you, you can hear the sounds of strangers.
And in the morning when you get up, the scary dream of being homeless will still be real.