If you in the DC metropolitan area over the weekend, you know that conditions were snowy , to put it mildly! The nation’s capitol was hit with it’s first big blizzard in about a decade – leaving up to two feet of snow and both charmed and frustrated residents in it’s wake, according to the Washington Post.
It’s days like Saturday – which I spent safely in the tenth floor of a residential high-rise – that I really take time to wonder about the lives of those experiencing homelessness. As the wind picked up and temperatures plummeted and the ground was covered in white, I wondered what people experiencing homelessness were doing to protect themselves. I wondered what people could do to protect themselves.
In the spirit of learning a first-person perspective, we offer you another HPRP success story. Karen was the second winner of our Story Bank challenge and she won registration to our next conference of her choice. Her story doesn’t have anything to do with snow, but she narrates her struggle to overcome homelessness with the help of existing assistance systems in Maryland.
My name is Karen and I was considered chronically homeless. My last episode of homelessness lasted for 11 months and during that time I lived in a tent in Salisbury. Md.
I became homeless for the first time in 2003 and hopefully for the last time from 2006-2007. I am now in recovery from chronic alcoholism. I lost my job, my home and my child from alcoholism. I was no longer employable due to the drinking and the end result was not only living in a tent but accepting it as though people did it every day.
My life wasn’t always this way. I grew up with loving parents and I had a great childhood. The alcohol was my downfall. I have been drinking alcoholically since I was fifteen. Alcohol robbed me of everything. I had been in treatment many times and nothing seemed to work. So the streets is where I ended up, panhandling money for alcohol and cigarettes like it was my job. I depended on the local churches and food banks for survival whether it was a warm meal or a blanket. A therapist I was seeing applied me for housing through Tri-County Alliance for the Homeless. They had a waiting list so I continued to live in my tent through the winter literally drinking myself to near death. I had actually forgotten about the housing mainly because I never really believed that it would ever happen. I was spending all my time surviving in the woods instead of how I was going to get out mainly because there seemed to be no way out. It is a lot harder to get out of the woods than it is to get in.
Then one day a man I knew approached me about getting back into treatment for mental health since I also suffer from depression. I could go to the mental health clinic because a wise woman from a local non-profit had had the foresight to apply me for state insurance while I was in the woods just in case I needed insurance, I thought she was crazy at the time but in the end it saved my life.
That mental health clinic also dealt with addiction and before I knew it I was in treatment again. At this point in my homelessness there were probably around six agencies involved with me and my predicament and there would be at least six more before it was all over. Every agency had there own part in my story and every part that they played was vital to my becoming successful. It started with the local shelter and ended up with the housing agency over the course of those 11 months. I am still grateful today that all those agencies cared enough to work together to get me where I am today. I have an apartment through housing, I am coming up on 23 months of sobriety, I went back to college and was reunited with my daughter.
I currently volunteer for a non-profit agency that helps the homeless and the near homeless. My continued wish for communities is that they work together to end homelessness because I believe they can move mountains as a team. In my time of being homeless I never met anyone who wanted to be homeless when they grew up and there isn’t anyone out there that isn’t worth saving. The odds were against me in succeeding but people cared enough to give it a shot.