It’s been over a decade since being put out onto the street, pregnant and with two kids. I thought I had pretty much healed from the experience. Unfortunately, thinking about helping support this movement has reawakened some of the pain and terror of that experience. I had to take a break and not think about it for a couple days.
Nonetheless, I feel my experience could help a lot of people understand better what it’s like to be homeless. There’s a lot of misconceptions out there, to put it mildly.
Personally, I had it easier than a lot of people. I managed to stay in shelters. I kept an unstable roof over our heads throughout the ordeal. I got into the charity “system” where I could find out the best places to find help.
But there was the stress–just astronomical levels of stress. Every moment I felt this knife hanging over my head: Will I have a place to stay? Would we be safe? The isolation was extreme. Traumatic experiences are inherently isolating. Add to that the fact that it was virtually impossible to make lasting friendships. Either our new friends would leave (or get kicked out) or we would leave. Many nights were pockmarked were the sounds of bullets close by. There was a (claimed to be) former drug leader that I worked with at a food bank to “earn” my $400/mo. TANF money, who described how he cut off the fingers of a woman who had betrayed him–and who kept hitting on me.
Worst of all were the stories of the other women I met and just the incredible amount of suffering I witnessed. That’s the biggest thing I saw: physical and emotional suffering. Trauma. Abuse. Violence. Granted I walked primarily among homeless women and families in shelters. So I didn’t necessarily meet all the homeless. I did spend a week at Samaritan House in Denver, which also housed single men and women. I also met many men and women on trips to the local free clinic. Everyone I saw sat under this black cloud of suffering.
One woman I met had a daughter about the same age as mine. People would think they were sisters. This other little girl had witnessed her father being murdered. Another women had been molested by an uncle during childhood and then severely beaten by a husband later on. Still another woman had fled a violent relationship with her kids. When they were sleeping in the park, she told them they were camping. There are many more. These just stand out.
This leads to why I think Suspended Coffee will make more of a difference than most people realize. A kind word and a kind act can make the world of difference in an extreme situation. There is a lot of physical help, through charities and government programs (though you really need to combine both to just survive), but the experience is so utterly stressful and the people so hurt that a few kind words, along with a small gesture, like a simple cup of coffee, can mean a world of difference.