On weekdays, the shelter staff wakes us up at 6:00 AM. On weekends and holidays, it’s 7:00 AM, and oh, the luxury of sleeping in! Assuming, of course, that none of the day clients — folks who come in to take showers and/or eat breakfast/lunch and/or just hang out — show up early and get into loud arguments at 5:30, which happens more often than any of the residents would like.
I get it that the fact I’m a resident makes me more privileged, as a homeless person, than someone who’s sleeping in a vehicle or on a blanket in a park or wherever, and I should be glad for the bed regardless of how long I actually get to sleep. But getting awakened by loud, nasty voices hurling profanities and insults? I doubt that’s anyone’s cup of tea.
Speaking of Tea and other morning-type beverages, some of us residents have our own little system to circumvent the fact the shelter does NOT serve morning coffee except as part of breakfast — well, there’s usually coffee with breakfast, but that’s at 9:00 AM. Two or three hours to wait for your morning cuppa? Yikes! So some of us save our cup-with-lid from a coffee house or fast-food place, or invest in a thermal mug, and with our EBT food budget we buy tea bags/instant coffee/sweetener of choice/instant creamer, and then toddle down the hall and get hot water from the filtered-water dispenser, and there ya go: A little touch of Normal in a situation most of us never thought we’d see up close and personal.
A little about the physical set-up at the shelter: men’s and women’s dorms are upstairs, case manager offices and kitchen and dining hall and “public” bathrooms/showers are downstairs. There’s a non-smoking courtyard in back where the dining hall is located,a large patio in front where the smokers hang out by default, and an activity room that seems most often to hold small meetings. Both open areas are quite the conversation zones, as you can imagine, and there are a couple of tables that tend to host card games. As you can also probably imagine, all those people, whether residents or day clients, result in a lot of detritus both inside and out, and so we have chores.
Everyone eventually winds up on the chores list, whether resident or long-term overnighter. (Day clients are STRONGLY encouraged to clean up after themselves. There’s a lot of spitting on the pavement, though. Filthy habit — use a planter, if you seriously have to spit.) We’re divided into groups according to our bed numbers, and each group either has a morning chore in one of three categories, or is off. The chores categories are:
- Trash, which obviously involves taking out the trash in the bathrooms in the dorms, plus emptying the cans in the upstairs hallway, dining hall, courtyard, patio and kitchen;
- Floors, which entails sweeping the hard floors and vacuuming the carpeted areas; there’s a small housekeeping staff that comes in daily to do the kitchen and every other day to do the heavy cleaning in the dorm bathroom/shower areas; and
- Bathrooms, which means washing mirrors and sinks and counters and giving the toilets a daily scrub.
Depending on how many people are in each group, and how many of them are on site rather than off on an overnight or weekend pass, getting your chores done can be easy or…less easy. But I figure we’re getting beds and being fed, so it’s a fair exchange. Not that I haven’t heard other opinions expressed, mind you.
These opinions tend to come from those who, in my mother’s words, would undoubtedly bitch if they were going to be hanged with a new rope.
Everyone not on a chore detail has to be out of the dorm by one hour after wake-up, while the folks “on duty” have an extra 20 minutes. And once you leave the dorm for the day, it practically takes an act of Congress to get back upstairs, so we all have to make sure we take everything we’re likely to need. And overnighters have to take everything, period, because it’s a day-to-day deal unless they’re accepted as residents and if they lose their overnight status, they don’t get back upstairs for anything. Instead, staff gathers and bags anything left behind and holds it pending recovery.
So, we’ve wakened — or I’ve wakened, to use me as the example. I’ve dressed, made my bed, had my coffee, maybe, and done my chore if it’s my week. Showers, by the way, are an evening activity, because getting the chores done when people are also trying to get showered is an exercise in futility. Anyway, done upstairs, so it’s down I go. If I plan to have breakfast at the shelter, the first thing I do when I get downstairs is put down my placeholder. You see, breakfast and lunch, with two “seatings” each and being open to the public so to speak, require numbered admission tickets. These are handed out by a staff member on a first come, first served basis — but nobody wants to stand in line for an hour or more, so the custom is to use a placeholder, then queue up in person a few minutes before tix get handed out at 8:30. Books, magazines, newspapers, flattened paper cups: if it won’t get blown away but isn’t too valuable to lose, it’s put out starting at the archway between the front and back patios.
Line-jumpers are a pain in the butt. I’ve started taking pictures of the line of markers before mine, so I can prove to staff that I had reason to move someone else’s marker if they’re trying to cut. Honestly, it’s so grade-school it’s funny, but it’s also amazing how important things like not losing your place can become. Especially since if you wind up with an end-of-the-line ticket and the kitchen runs out of food during second breakfast, you don’t get breakfast.
Second breakfast. How very hobbity.
Rinse and repeat if I’m also staying for lunch. I tend not to, though; hanging out there for that many hours tends to be…well, demoralizing. Depressing at the very least. Not to mention noisy and smoky. I’m on food stamps and General Relief (which seems to be what they’re calling welfare these days), so I can go to the store and buy food when I don’t feel like eating at the shelter. Can’t buy hot food, but I can add a little variety.
When I had wheels, I’d go several days a week to visit my cats at the vet’s, grab some yogurt for breakfast, then spend time at one or another of the libraries on my route until it was time for lunch. Sans wheels…well, I have to figure out which buses (or bus/light rail combo) will get me down there and back without taking up half a day.
There’s a place in the same city as the shelter that bills itself as a “safe haven” for women who are homeless and/or at risk, and although they’re only open 4 days a week, they always serve some kind of food, so that’s where I normally grab lunch. Except Tuesdays, when they’re open 9-12 and serve breakfast; Tuesday afternoons they host a writers’ group from 1-3 and I enjoy it a lot. This place also allows its clients to sign up to do laundry, take showers, use computers (it has 2), even take naps. Cool place, cool volunteers, and when I get back on my feet, they’ll get a monthly donation from me. They’ve been lifesavers.
Sometimes, rather than go to the main city library, I’ll scrape up a couple of bucks, go to a local coffee shop and buy a coffee or tea and sit for several hours just to feel like a normal person. The library, you see, is a place where many of the local homeless folks spend a lot of time, either to use computers or do research or just to sit and enjoy the A/C. And I see enough of most of those folks at the shelter, and while I do NOT in any way consider myself better than the rest of the homeless population, I do get tired of seeing the same people.
For all I know, many of them get equally tired of seeing me. 🙂
So that’s my day, mostly. Wake up, dress, do my chore, breakfast, library/coffee shop, women’s place, library, then back to the shelter. It varies based on whether or not I have to meet with my case manager at the shelter, or the one at social services re: food stamps/GR, and my time at the library is sometimes productive — sending out resumes! — and sometimes…not — playing games and reading blogs. Then back to the shelter for dinner at eight (cue old movie reference), shower, reading or puttering on my computer until lights out at 11:00 PM.
Some of my dorm mates snore. I’ve been told I also snore, but there are nights I wonder how anyone gets the chance to find out. I’ve recently tried ear plugs, and they help, but damned if I don’t wind up awake at 5:30 AM for one reason or another. I do sleep, though. Mostly.
Then I get up and do it all over again. A Day in the Life of a Homeless Person. Somehow, I don’t think it’ll replace the Beatles song.