Technically, I have been homeless for 7 months. I walked out the door of the house I’d lived in for 18 years in mid-April and will not have an address of residence for another two weeks.
In reality, it has been a privileged and voluntary form of homelessness. For 5 months of that period I was on the road, travelling. My mail was being forwarded to a place I could retrieve it. I still had substantial belongings and I even visited them a few times in their secure storage locker. When I lost a jacket, a charger, my toiletries, I could easily go out and buy new ones. The only item irreplaceable was a journal that was left behind.
When I returned to Vancouver Island in mid-September looking for my new home, spending a month “couch surfing,” it was the luxury version. At this age, many of my friends are empty nesters, and I would have a bedroom and my own bathroom. Even when I was on a pull-out or pull-down bed at one of my sisters’, it was in a room where I could close the door and have privacy.
And yet, despite how kind and hospitable my friends and family were, it got old. Packing up my bag every 1 or 2 or 3 days. Leaving items behind, adjusting to different places, going to bed later than I should and getting up earlier than I wanted. Tiptoeing around in the evening or the morning, depending on the house schedule. Having to change plans when someone else’s plans changed. Having to be sociable, and positive, and grateful. Always being in transition. Not knowing when I would have my own place.
It was so easy compared to actual homelessness. I was never at risk of violence or theft. I was never hungry. Although I sometimes wasn’t sure where I would be staying a particular night, I knew I would be warm and safe.
And yet, my mental state deteriorated to the worst it’s been since the month after my husband left. I cried when I was alone in the car, and tried, not always successfully, to put on a good face when I had to be with people.
Once again, my privilege kicked in. Through contacts I accessed a beachside cabin for a good price, as my year of self-discovery helped me realize that what I needed was to be still, by myself.
It worked. Having control of my schedule, my diet and my activities had me, within days, not just happy, but serene. After 12 days, I was able to return to a slightly less hectic schedule (only moving once a week until I am in my new home) with my resilience restored.
I have always been a proponent of “housing first” as the best approach to homelessness, but that was an intellectual position. Having seen how housing insecurity affected me, with all my strengths and supports, I am appalled to think of those who are homeless without those resources, faced with violence and hunger, mental health and substance problems, and pushed to the dark corners by the disdain of those who would rather blame than help.
I known when I am settled I will be doing some work for those who are homeless, whose brave travels begin again every morning when the shelter doors open.