This is the second part of The House On the Hill
Day to day life in a homeless shelter is not normal day to day life. It is a cross between being in the armed forces, and serving a jail sentence. First of all, to a certain degree, you lose your freedom. You are told when to get up. Banging on doors with the loud announcement to get up starts at six. If you are smart, you get up before that time, so you may head downstairs to see if coffee has been made.
Coffee is a commodity in a place like this. Everyone keeps instant coffee in their locker since the coffee pots don’t always work. Instant coffee is a way of life and so, you get your coffee and head outside to smoke. You must be out of the shelter by nine at the latest. It is preferable to be out of there earlier. The only exception is for those who are too disabled to be out and about all day.
Once you are out of the shelter, you need to find something to do. I used to walk to the Salvation Army for free breakfast, then it was a short walk to the library where I could go online to look for jobs. There were also a few places that served free doughnuts and coffee to the homeless and I would go there. We had to go out every single day regardless of weather. That meant you needed an umbrella, sunscreen, and winter gear. The only time you did not have to leave would be in the case of a severe snowstorm or wind chill. Failing that, your butt would be out there. There would be no going back early if you were not feeling well either. You would have no choice but to try and tough it out.
You are told when to come back. Curfew is at four in the afternoon. You need to be back before then so that you may sign a list. If you came back late, you ran the risk of losing your bed. Residents get taken in one at a time. Bags are inspected, you are checked over to make sure you are not drunk or high. Then you may go to your room. If you have arrived late, one of a few things can happen. If you are not drunk or high, you can get a written warning. If you are under the influence, you may get kicked out.
Once you are back, you will need to make sure nothing got stolen while you were out. Since there are more than one person to a room, theft is common but hard to prove. I used to hide the few things I did not want touched. If you smoke, you learn the hard way to never go outside with a full pack of cigarettes. The beggars will be all over you if they see a full pack. The upside is that people get desperate, and will do your chores for a couple of smokes.
There is no set time for dinner. It gets served when the people making it are done. If you have a dietary restriction due to religion that can be worked around to some extent. If you are just fussy, you will learn to shut your mouth and eat. The alternative is to go hungry, so you might want to suck it up.
Once dinner is over, you have free time. I spent mine mostly in my room reading. I did have a boyfriend there, and I would spend part of my time watching him show off on the basketball court. Hookups were commonplace. PDA’s were frowned upon. The rule was simple, you could do what you wanted once you left the property. Once you were back, nothing. This meant not even kissing my boyfriend goodnight.
Last cigarette was always at quarter to eleven. Lights out at eleven p.m.
Just because it is time for lights out, does not mean it is quiet. Fighting can happen at any time. We had residents who walked in their sleep. it was a humiliating experience to know that you had little to no rights whatsoever. The only thing you did have control over was getting out of there as fast as possible.
So many people who were there did not fit the classic profile of a homeless person. It truly is time for that to change. Yes, a large chunk of the homeless population have untreated mental illness. This is a statistical fact. There are countless others who fell down the rabbit hole of poverty. What about them? What can be done for the hardworking people who live paycheck to paycheck and lose it all due to a poor job market?
Just something to think about.