It's been quite awhile since I updated this blog. My friend's chastise me when I apologize. So, instead I'll just assure you I've been very busy and collecting my thoughts about this experience we call life. It's been an interesting summer.
Back in June, I was staying at a friend's house. I had already moved a few times. And I had lost a job. I felt like I was hanging by a thread. And I had to be out of that place by mid July since my friends were expecting a baby. My mom had heard about a program called HUD-VASH. So, I went to the housing office in the third floor of the mental health wing of the VA Hospital. There, they told me I didn't qualify for HUD-VASH since I wasn't “literally homeless”. I didn't say it outloud. But, I was thinking “Well, wait a few weeks and I will be”. I do understand that they work on a pretty strict budget. And they have to take people on a basis of their needs. But, it still hurt to hear of yet another option struck down.
But, it wasn't as if they were throwing me out of the office. I had, thankfully, been quite honest about my transgender status on the questionaire handed me when I arrived. I'm getting quite honest about disclosing that status. The counselor I spoke with made some calls before I saw him. He said he could get me into a women's shelter. After asking him if that was my only option, I took a deep breathe and agreed to it.
There were two things that made me nervous about such a decision. The first was the image I had in my head about a homeless shelter. I think most of us (thank you television and movies) have the same image in our head. A dark and dirty open room filled with cots and unclean mentally ill and alcohol people. I honestly feared for my safety at thinking about such a place. I also feared for my safety since I wasn't yet living full time. I was sure I would probably be okay inside the walls. Women tend to be more supportive and understanding. But, I would undoubtedly have to leave the building. Logically, I knew this was my only option. But, before I left, I told the counselor I wasn't on the street that day. I told him a little white lie that my roommates were letting me stay another week and a half. There wasn't a hard and fast deadline. I just needed to give them time to get my room ready for the baby. By giving myself some extra time, it allowed me to pack my things up and store them in my parent's basement and quite honestly, get used to the idea of living full time in a homeless shelter.
I don't like the unknown. I do my research. I like to walk into a situation knowing all I can about where I'm at and who is there. I knew there was no way to possibly know who to expect there. But, the least I could do was research the shelter in question. But, the problem I ran into was that since besides having a contract to house women veterans, it also doubles as a shelter for domestic violence victims, it's location is kept confidential. I have no desire to break that trust. So, I won't write here where it is or even name it. And this has also kept me from writing the next several posts. I wanted to try to do so without violating that trust. The people there were very good to me. And they do important work. I did eventually find the address in the paperwork they gave me at the VA. Which, was a little embarrassing. You'd think I'd notice it. The best I could do was find google street view of the building. It was of little reassurance. But, it would have to do.
Over the next week and a half, I gathered my things and made several trips to my parent's house to pack and store what I couldn't take with me. All the time getting reassurances from family and friends that things would work out. Slowly, the idea of doing this sinked in and I actually started looking at it as a challenge.
When the day finally arrived, I would have to arrive in women's clothing. Most of my life, the idea of being seen in women's clothing by my mom has been an embarrassing situation. And something I would be punished for when I was a kid. My mom seems to be more accepting over the last couple of years. But, I still wasn't sure if I wanted her to take me (I don't own a car). So, I asked a good friend. I didn't have to be there until 5pm. So, I had to walk out the door in the sunlight. I had forgotten how hard that was. But, I knew it was my only option. And I reassured myself that since it was a weekday, I shouldn't expect to see many people. So, before my friend arrived, I left the apartment with my back pack and duffle bag and walked down to the parking lot. She was running a little late. But, I kept my composure over the stress while sitting there.
We had a very nice ride down to the shelter. I tried not to talk about it. I distracted myself by asking her about her family and how things were going for her. My life was the giant pink elephant in the back seat I didn't want to touch. When we got closer, I was instructed to call them and they would tell me where to be dropped off. From there, I called again and they gave me the address I already had. There came the choice. I had to get out of the car. I looked around. I asked my friend again for reassurances that I was going to be okay. I took a deep breathe, looked around and pulled the door latch. After fetching my bags from the trunk, I looked around again, gave my friend a hug, said goodbye and headed away from the busy street they asked me to take to the shelter. By this time I knew if I walked away from the bigger street, I could make it by making a few lefts and rights in the residential area. There was no way I could walk on a busy street. I was too stressed to do so. I walked about ten steps before I saw some people off in the distance sitting on the front porch ahead of me. I could hear the engine from my friend's car quickly blending in with the traffic hum of the busy street I was walking away from. I had to continue walking forward. One foot at a time. Left. Right. I kept my eyes on the porch people. But, as I got closer, I tried not to be to obvious about my concern. I shifted from direct eye contact to peripheral monitoring. I didn't get any indication from them that they were worried about me. And there wasn't any stirring from any other house in the vicinity. It was an older neighborhood. But, it wasn't run down. I made my lefts and rights, all the while continuing to move my feet forward. Right, left. Breathing in. Breathing out. Looking left. Looking right. Trying not to give anybody who might be watching me the slightest clue that I was nervous about being there. It wasn't too long into this pseudo gauntlet when I saw the front door. I was having a difficult time keeping my duffle bag on the sidewalk. It kept hitting the back of my thigh. But, forward momentum was not deferred. I walked through the parking lot and stopped in front of a door. I looked behind me once more. Then dropped the bag and hit the buzzer. There was a brief second or two where I thought about turning around. But, I didn't let that feeling gather steam. This was the direction I would be going. Always forward. Never back. Back is where the mine field is (Thank you lessons learned from the U.S.S. Stark incident). Buzz! I was now clear to open the door.
And down the rabbit hole I fell. From that moment on, nothing was the same.
To be continued…….