Suddenly, there’s a lot of talk regarding what it means to be homeless. Well, as a woman, the choices I face are brutal and remain on a constant loop.
While the details blur, there are some things you remember.
I remember the biting wind, the pangs of uncertainty in my stomach and the words from the man who approached me. I was 17. I was between houses, between refuges, and between options. When you’re habitually homeless, you manufacture a series of graceful exits. You run the risks of the lesser evils.
This man felt like that. The spiky couch, the creeping hands, the staleness of his breath.
Whenever I am put, or have put myself, in that situation, I think of that moment. The one where I wrestled free and locked myself in the bathroom. The one where he beat on the door, castigating me for leading him on – threatening to call the cops unless I “figured out the score”.
The one where I gave in.
What were my options? What are my options?
To survive, you enter into a series of difficult relationships. Unions that defy normative labels. You couple up to stay off the streets, you couple up on the streets to feel safer. You take all the very bad with the fraction of good you hope is there. You seek those who say one thing but mean another; loosely worded ads for a space with low rent. They all involve an older man with a relaxed view on rent day, but not when you have to “pay up” – that comes quickly. Some are kinder in their approaches, but they all expect the same thing.
All involve an older man with a relaxed view on rent day, but not when you have to “pay up” – that comes quickly.
The best you can hope for is to not come to danger. I’ve lost people who’s names I’ve known. Twice this has happened, usually kept in the lines of, “What happened to Alice?” A shake of the head is what usually accompanies it. We know, but we don’t know. We just know that they’re not around anymore. You hope for the best, but the pooling acid in your stomach tells you otherwise. No-one knows any details, so you hope for the best, and you hope for change. Some of us choose jail, some of us choose relationships that are close to it, and all of us choose what we have to do.
There’s a general misrepresentation of what is like to be homeless. It’s not a one-off thing. It’s a cycle. A lifetime pursuit of climbing out of the pit and falling back into it. Escape is difficult, almost impossible. Escape begets your return. Housing is not guaranteed, it’s a fleeting comfort.
You know for a fact that everything can be taken away in a moment. It can, and it will. It colours your thinking. The streets are often as dangerous as the rooms we flee to. But we take our chances, while hoping that they hold out.
We all covet change, places of our own. But that is pushed out of the brain until tomorrow, available to us if we survive tonight.