I want to share another with you! This is an excerpt from my time living at the Homeless Emergency Project (HEP), where I had once placed my homeless clients, as part of my job as a Homeless Outreach Therapist for Directions for Mental Health. Some of my neighbors in the apartment were active clients of mine at Directions back then.
Every year across the country, one day is dedicated to trying to capture the number of homeless people. Each community puts together large teams of people to count the number of homeless people. The teams spread out from the soup kitchens, homeless programs, to the woods, along the beaches, and anywhere else.
For the previous three years, I was involved as a homeless census team member, recording the homeless numbers, one person at a time. There was a form to fill out, sign, and usually a free t-shirt and other goodie for their time. We gathered some demographic information in addition to the number.
In 2004, I was not a part of the census team, in fact, I was not even aware it was Homeless Census Day until I went outside the apartment for something else. There was my former colleague and current HEP case worker Trish with t-shirts and clipboards. I asked what was going on, she said it was homeless census day, and asked if I would come and fill out the form for her.
I stopped moving forward in my chair for just a moment because I was flashing back to the previous years of counting the homeless myself. Time stood still and I was frozen, but I replied to Trish that I would be there in just a few moments.
That sensation of being kicked in the gut and being unable to breathe was getting to be a regular occurrence. I wondered if I would eventually get used to it. Each time it happened, I was taken off guard so much that it would take me more than a few minutes to catch my breath and slow my heart rate back down. I was already considering myself a homeless statistic, so why all of this breathlessness again?
When I filled out all the paperwork to move in there, that is what I said, and that wasn’t even a month ago. It seemed that being asked to make it even more real was a bit harder to take. This was another concrete experience of being just like everyone else there, rather than the abstract experiences of saying I was living in a homeless program. I could say it, but I was not close to grasping it as my reality. I had not expected the real-ness of it to hit me again.
I motored my chair over to Trish quietly. I waited for the clipboard, filled out the form, signed my name, and got my free t-shirt. Holding the t-shirt as she handed it to me, I said, “Well, I guess that really makes it official, huh?” Trish wasn’t sure what I meant, so I explained that I was officially a homeless outreach therapist turned homeless statistic today on homeless census day. Her eyes changed as she looked at me. It hadn’t occurred to her that it would be a big deal to sign a sheet of paper. Once I said it, she got it, and her eyes filled with compassion and she gave me a big hug.
While I had slowed my heart rate some before going over to where Trish was in the parking lot, I had just increased it again and filled my eyes with tears by making such a statement aloud. The hug seemed to make the tears want to spill over and down my face, so I said a quick thank you for the hug and motored away from everyone to avoid making a scene. I have never been a fan of crying in front of people, and this certainly was not the time or place for me to bawl my eyes out. I almost felt a bit silly because really, I was already a homeless client, so it was nothing new. Signing a piece of paper did not really change anything. I wondered if this was how it felt for everyone signing the forms on census day.
This wasn’t the first thing to send me for an emotional loop since this roller coaster began, nor would it be the last. There would be many other situations that I would not have expected to bother me at all, that would indeed bother me a lot. My task on this census day was to keep it together, and fortunately, I was able to do that. There would be other situations I would not be as fortunate…