Homeless (part 2)

Let’s get back to that time in the homeless shelter. Background information is very important, so if you haven’t read Part 1, read it first here: Homeless (part 1) DAY ONE.

Last time we left off, Frank had gone into a crazy seizure and I had run away knowing he had kicked the can while sitting right next to me. I had run into the women’s wing- straight to my bunk, not knowing where else to go. Ready?

I lay staring at the ceiling filth a little longer. It wasn’t that I wasn’t used to death and violence; in fact I had become calloused to it. However, for once I was in fear. Suddenly it felt as if every person’s own outcome I saw in this shelter would surely happen to me. After an hour or so, I suddenly woke up. Crap; I had to go to the shelter orientation.

I grabbed my sad backpack and hurried to the office. I waited for my turn at the bulletproof window to ask where the class was. They coldly directed me with some annoyance to what looked like a craftroom in the hall I had just come from. I shuffled in, saying nothing. There was a girl and her boyfriend sitting there already. They looked to be in their late 20’s. The guy, a Hispanic fellow with a carefully razored jawline, sat angrily. The girl, whose face was studded in piercings, appeared impatient. She tossed her long, greasy black hair while sighing loudly. Apparently they were regulars. I suddenly recognized the girl from my room the night before; she was my roomie!

A couple more people filed in and sat around the four craft tables pushed together, but the only one I noticed was a towering Puerto Rican guy. His skin was weathered and his age was much less distinguishable than his numerous tattoos. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were Detroit gang tattoos. He was talking gruffly about how nice it was to be out of the state prison after so many years, somehow still managing to complain about the conditions at the shelter. Finally, a human services worker entered.

The worker was heavyset with a permanent smile. She was sweet; almost girlish. When she began reviewing our rule packets, it was clear she had done this a million times. Something some of the ‘guests’ were required to do was get a drug test. Due to my age and former social class, I was not. The three people I had most noticed began to pitch a fit about the hours of the testing center. Next, the case worker reviewed the classes we were required to attend. There were weekly meetings with our case managers, job hunting classes, substance abuse classes, required AA meetings and group meetings. Great. We were required to do at least ten hours of community service each week in approved locations as well. Curfew was 10pm. No drinking at all. No drugs at all. The three others were growing more and more angrily restless and finally the Puerto Rican guy stood. The worker asked him for his name; it was Cisco- short for Francisco.

Worker: What’s the matter Francisco?

Cisco: Don’t call me that. It’s bullshit we have to follow all these damn rules. How are we supposed to get jobs? And 10pm is my booty call time.

Worker: Usually the volunteering leads to a job offer. We also have classes for that, but booty calls should be the least of your worries at this time. No bling, no girls.

Cisco: This is horseshit. I can’t even drink? Bitch, I’ve been in prison drinking hooch for seventeen years. I get to drink now. If y’all are going to treat me like this I might as well pack up my bags and leave!

I watched, wide-eyed. What did this guy think this place was? The Ritz? I was impressed they even fed us and offered so many resources. I had always thought that I would only be offered a bed to sleep in, not the coaching, housing resources, case management and job-ins. Once Cisco had finished his monologue, the case worker picked up her things wordlessly and left. We all stared blankly at each other. The mutual questions echoed between our eyes: What would happen? Why did she do that? What were we supposed to do? She had shut the door behind her, so we all silently stayed put. Not five minutes later, another woman opened the door. She was much sterner and introduced herself as Annie. Great; she was my assigned case manager and she had a very tough face on. She reviewed the rest of the policies and no one challenged her. This lady looked scary. As usual, when she ended the class, I remained silent. Everyone filed out and I made a point to be last; I wasn’t going to fight anyone in line.

It was lunchtime. I got a tray with the rest of the people filing in and waiting in line. Green beans, beef stroganoff and a stale cookie. I’d eaten far worse. I sat at the end of a vacant table and bent to eat. Someone walked by and snatched my cookie. I dared not raise my head. Someone else came by and scraped half of my stroganoff onto their tray, then another person took the rest. I slowly ate the green beans. This wasn’t going to work, but hey, I was still in such a daze I’m sure I looked high.

My only appointment after lunch was to meet with the all-terrifying Annie, my assigned case manager. I pulled my dog-eared folder full of my military enlistment information from my bag and returned to the office. When I got to the window, I told the woman I was ready for my appointment and she directed me to sit in the lobby area until Annie came to get me. I watched the front doors numbly. This wasn’t real. I was just dreaming of some prison show episode. A very thin, scraggly woman with massive, thick glasses obstructing her face trudged in through the doors. Her name, as I heard from the conversation she had with the worker at the window, was Sue. I don’t remember what her eyes looked like, but her thin shoulders were hunched on a dark teal, battered winter coat. Her weathered face was covered in deep wrinkles and her long, slightly curly sand-colored hair made me wonder if there were small mammals nesting inside. This woman was seasoned at homelessness. She went into the office to start her intake. The last thing I heard them say to her was to give her a room assignment; she was in the room across the hall from me.

My absentminded eavesdropping was interrupted abruptly; Annie was standing right beside me. Agh. Time to face her. I picked up my beat-up folder and followed her through the office, down a back hallway and into her office. She directed me to sit at the chair next to her desk, which was heavily adorned in framed pictures of smiling children. Her kids. I couldn’t picture this woman as a mother. She flipped open her folder and rifled through my intake files.

Annie: So it says here that you had a domestic dispute and was asked to leave. Correct?

Me: My dad threw me out. I have been trying to join the Air Force and he didn’t want me to so he called my recruiter up, wrote prescriptions for me to disqualify me and told him I was crazy and unfit for duty. Then he threw my stuff outside and called the cops.

Annie: Yeah sure. So my job is to help you come up with a plan to find a job and a home. We will check in every week to make sure you are making progress on the plan. Have you met with the housing coordinator?

I don’t know if it was her skepticism, her indifference or her disregard for helping me straighten out my affairs and leave for basic training, but obviously it wasn’t something she was even considering. My dreams faltered even more and the floodgates opened.

Me: I….I…I am joining the military. I have to fix things and they’ll let me in. I have to prove I didn’t fill those prescriptions. I have to get evaluated by a clinical psychiatrist and provide the results to my recruiter. I need real help!

She stopped and looked at me. Man did this lady have a great poker face. I realized that most of the people who sat in this uncomfortable black plastic chair probably said the same things out of craziness. She has probably heard so much that she just didn’t know to believe me. Her blank stare somehow helped me regain my composure and I straightened myself in the chair.

Annie: We have some resources for that. I can give you a 40-punch bus pass to help you find the pharmacy that the prescriptions were filled at. Did you fill them yourself?

Me: No. One of my parents did but I don’t know which pharmacy they used.

Annie: You can get a receipt copy then with one of their signatures, which proves you weren’t involved.

Me: I’ll have to go every pharmacy in the city!

Annie: Well, you better get started!

Me: What about the psych evaluation?

Annie: Well, we have resources for mental health, but they won’t do a full evaluation unless you’re willing to admit you’re suicidal.

I knew admitting suicidal tendencies would defeat the purpose of getting a clean evaluation. I had to somehow get it another way. Annie was sorting through my military enlistment papers; the look on her face softened and she smiled at me.

Annie: Skye, you can do this. I’ll help you. We can figure each step out as it comes.

I left with warm fuzzies filling my stomach. She wasn’t bad after all; she was just trying to help people who actually wanted help. I had seen the warmth fill her eyes as she had read through my military paperwork. She knew that I was for real. I walked out of the office, through the family wing and into the women’s wing, clutching my bus pass as if it was my life. Maybe I could beat this.


It was bingo night. Yay. I had awakened to the PA system and dirty ceiling in my face and readied myself with new hope. Hopping the bus, I had started my search of pharmacies. I had 22 pharmacies to search through, spread out over a very wide range. Time to get going. I had decided that during lunch I could call various clinical psychiatrists for an evaluation; maybe one of them was willing to take me on pro-bono. I won’t lie; the first day was discouraging. I looked every bit the homeless kid, so when I walked into the pharmacy, I was shooed out immediately. I didn’t even have time to speak.

Mealtimes weren’t much better. People would walk by and take my food. Thankfully, there were some very stale contributions at the head table. I lived off moldy turnovers and Cheetos. But this…this was Bingo night. I still have never won a game of bingo in my life, but I needed to; the prizes were basic toiletries I didn’t have. Apparently the usual guy who called bingo was in the hospital for a drug overdose, so without thinking, I stepped up to the plate. I was calling bingo. In exchange, I could select any prize in advance and keep it for myself. I chose shampoo, conditioner and a razor.

After the first hour of calling numbers, I had it down to the perfect science. My game was to play adorable and get everyone to want to protect me. I was doing well. I called for a smoke break and we all filed out. Francisco, better known as Cisco at that point, approached me. I had no smokes on me, so I asked him as cutely as I could for one. He pressed his body hard against mine into a corner. I remember feeling something hard against my stomach and I clenched.

Cisco: I am gonna lick your pussy. Hard. Till it hurts. Then I’m going to turn you around, tie you up and fuck you so hard you bleed to death.

I didn’t know how to respond. I murmured something and tried to wiggle out from his rock hard grasp. The smell of alcohol on his breath hit me. He was drunk. In spite of the alcohol rules, he had been drinking. I pushed him away and hurried out to the smoking area, bumming a smoke off of someone else. I was shaken, but I had dealt with worse.

I wrapped up the bingo game on time, packing up the games and prizes so quickly even the staff commented. I just needed to get to safety. Jetting into the women’s wing, I breathed. The reality was starting to hit: I was in a homeless shelter favored by state prison release programs. I was female, single, going through withdrawals and more vulnerable than anyone else in the shelter. In spite of my shocked state, I crawled into my bunk and lay on my back. We had a new roomie. I lay and stared at the ceiling, which was becoming familiar with its reliable streaks and filth.

I listened to the other women in the room chatter away happily. The door cracked open and yet another new woman was led in. She was thin and eyeballed my laptop, telling me it was nice in an impressively creepy way; I hugged it closer and thanked her. She had just come from a criminal mental institution and had no clothes. With surprise, I watched everyone dig eagerly through their belongings and play dress up with her. I had believed many things about the homeless, and while many of those impressions had been confirmed, I was witnessing a dynamic I would have never guessed existed. I sat up and introduced myself to the women, since I had been silent for the most part, keeping out of sight in my bunk. Their faces lit up and they introduced themselves to me as well.

First there was Krista. She looked to be around fifty and had a quiet demeanor. She didn’t say why she was there but it was clear she had come on hard times with her family. She was dressed as if she was middle class and slept on the bunk beneath mine. I loved her motherly smile but man did she have horrific gas at night, which wafted up the sides of my bed. Krista and I are still friends to this day.

Next there was Eunice. She and Krista were good friends and did goofy things like dress up and go to expensive jewelry shops to try on all the different diamonds. She was much older; I would say late 60s. I didn’t get to learn much about her, only that she and her son were at the shelter and still trying to get custody back of her granddaughter without success. She laughed like Santa Claus but could switch to razor sharp hostility at the drop of a hat. One day, she and her son got off the city bus and walked away. I never saw them again.

Then there was Shena. It wasn’t long before I nicknamed her Shino the Kun-Fu Princess. Shena was pregnant and staying in the shelter with her boyfriend, who was in and out of prison. They were trying to regain stability after his last brawl; they had lost their home as a result. Shena was probably in her mid twenties and had multiple piercings. She and the other girl who had been in my orientation appeared to be long time friends, chatting late into the night. I immediately liked Shena. We still keep in touch.

Erin was the girl with the long black hair who had angrily spoken out during orientation. She had a much tougher edge to her but still laughed and enjoyed being girly with Shena. In spite of her many piercings she had a rare but charming smile. She and her boyfriend were in pretty much the same boat as Shena; her boyfriend was usually in and out of major trouble. They hadn’t been together long but had decided they were going to try to get housing together. It was apparent that Shena and Erin had been here many times before and knew the ropes, almost too well. At least they liked me.

The woman on the bottom bunk nearest the door was Lucy. She was in her forties and laughed so much I wanted to insult her to make it stop. She was jovial and had a very dirty mind; apparently Lucy was the one that went around and arranged the stuffed animals into sexual positions every morning. In spite of her small stature she had a heavy, rasping voice from heavy smoking and drinking. She explained things had gotten so bad with her drinking that she had stopped, but not before it landed her in the shelter. She was kind, in her own goofy and usually dirty way. I had heard murmurings about her having cancer but she never spoke of it. She didn’t live to see the end of the year.

The other roommates were Karen, the mousy woman and the new meth addict. Karen was snobby and reserved, saying little to me. She was also there with her boyfriend. They looked to be in their thirties, but a couple days later they had left the shelter and I never saw them again. The mousy new woman would also be kicked out just a few days later after going ballistic in the hallway with a knife. I had briefly seen it happen but the one thing I remember about the scene was that while she stood there, feet apart, screaming at the ceiling and brandishing a tiny knife, a wet spot appeared just below her waist and spread down her leg. She had peed herself. The last roommate was named Brin. She was pretty and sweet, boasting the most charisma in the room. She was mid-twenties. Her parents had thrown her out after she had stolen some valuables to buy more meth. They were done with her.

We all settled in for the night and I went back to staring at the ceiling, calculating. I still felt numb, but over the course of the day I’d regained the ability to think. I had to use the way people perceived me to protect myself. I realized that they all thought I was pretty adorable, being very young and tiny. Slowly a game plan formed in my mind. I would call every psychiatrist I knew and beg for a pro-bono evaluation. I would ride that city bus or even walk to every darn pharmacy in the city if it meant I could have my life back. Even though I wanted to give up with every fiber of my being, I couldn’t imagine what that would look like aside from suicide.

Sometime during the night, Brin got up, went into our shared bathroom and turned the faucet on. She remained in there for what felt like an hour before I fell asleep again.

The next morning I awoke with the other women. Today, I was required to leave during the day just like everybody else. Brin was gone and a horrific odor permeated the room. Erin peered into her unmade bed, exclaimed in disgust and showed us what she had found: Her bed was full of vomit. Karen said something about how she had seen Brin sit up, puke all over herself and then lie back down as if nothing had happened. I let one of the staff know and offered to bag up the bedding. Once I was done, I went outside, bummed a smoke off someone and waited for the bus. I clutched my list of pharmacies. The hunt was on.


It had been a crazy week. My numbness had remained in place, but I was already beginning to hustle. I rolled cigarettes for the older addicts, saving some for myself. I made sure to play up the cute factor and some of the other people in the shelter had become protective of me. One guy especially was named Andy. Andy was a recovering alcoholic who had just had a baby. He was only allowed visitation. For some reason this guy developed a major liking for me and walked with me to the library to stay warm and to various pharmacies. I still hadn’t found the pharmacy but was determined nonetheless. After calling every psychiatrist in the phonebook without success, I had emailed and called the therapists at my old boarding school but without a response. Andy and I just survived together. I was building support.

It was time for my next case manager meeting with Annie. She was much kinder this time, explaining that she had cracked down during the orientation meeting only because it had gotten more hostile than usual. We reviewed all the pharmacies I’d been to thus far, and mostly just talked about getting used to the shelter. She said I would be allowed to make long distance phone calls off of the conference room phone to try to reach a psychiatrist. As we wrapped up and I rose to leave, I had a thought.

All week I had avoided Cisco like the plague. I had dodged into various rooms when I saw him in the hall and waited until he had finished eating and left the cafeteria before I slipped in to get my tray and get the food stolen off my plate. I didn’t know what to say to him. I had heard that he had just been released after serving 17 years at the state prison for assault and armed robbery. I knew he had been a cage fighter; these things had led me to realize that I needed to stay away from him in my vulnerable position. Maybe Annie could help. I explained the situation and what had happened during bingo night with him. She frowned and advised me that sexual harassment wasn’t permitted. She told me she would handle it. Great. She, however, was done for the day so as I left, so did she.

I slipped into the cafeteria for dinner that night behind Cisco, got my tray and sat at my usual vacant table, eating quickly before someone took my food. A woman sat across from me. I’d seen her around and she was an old, very tall and heavy bully. Her name was Elaine. She looked me over.

Elaine: You need to move. That’s my friend’s seat.

Me:…but I just got here. No one was even at the table.

Elaine: That’s Terry’s seat and you need to MOVE.

She began to stand. I was tired. I wasn’t trying to be gutsy or have an attitude; I was just tired of jumping out of the way. I remained in my seat, continuing to chew. She looked confused. No one disregarded her loud, angry tone. She always got some kind of response, even if it was the rare person to resist her.

Elaine: MOVE!

Me: I had this table to myself. She can sit next to me if she wants but I don’t want to move.

Elaine scraped her chair back and sat down. She was confused, but my calmness had quelled her. She cracked a smile at me. Had I passed some kind of test? Her friend Terry came and sat next to me and we began to eat together. Maybe, with just the right balance of standing up for myself and appealing to people’s protective sides, I could survive.

The next morning, when I sat up, Brin’s usual vomit-filled bed was completely bare. She had been kicked out, but I would see much more of her in the months to come. Karen and Eunice had since left the shelter as well as the tiny knife brandishing woman. I dressed as warmly as I could. That day, I had to make a very long walk to a hard-to-reach pharmacy. After dressing, checking my belongings and bundling everything into my sad backpack, I walked to the cafeteria and poured myself some water-coffee. There were only two or three other people remaining and one of them was Lucy. She eagerly pushed the newspaper towards me. I had found that doodling little bean men walking all over the newspaper made her day, so she hustled for the newspapers and I would draw on them for her in the morning. She hoarded the papers jealously. I had started to doodle when the PA system blared, summoning Cisco to the office to speak with Annie. Uh oh. Lucy and the other people made their way out of the cafeteria, so I sat there alone, listening as hard as I could. The doors to the lunchroom were right across the hall from the office doors, and I was hoping to find out what she said to him without looking over. I picked up the newspaper and pretended to read it as Cisco lumbered past the lunch room doors and to the office.

Staring hard at the paper, I strained my ears. I couldn’t make out what was being said but I noted that Cisco’s voice had turned quickly to rage. I heard the office door close and dared not look up to betray the fact I was listening. I heard slow, intentionally heavy footfalls entering the cafeteria. He was behind me. He was standing right behind me. His flat hand connected with the top of my back with such force that my head whipped back. Then he did it again, and again. He chuckled and slowly walked back out of the lunch room.

I sat there, still clutching the newspaper and became aware of the fact my sweaty palms has soaked through it. I have gotten Cisco’s message loud and clear:

He was going to rape me. Then he was going to kill me.


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