Come and Imagine with Us

Imagine…

that you are a 65-year-old Vietnam Veteran. You’ve always lived with your mother and helped her around the house. You learn that your mother has cancer, and she has lived for a while through various treatments. One morning, you wake up and learn she has passed away. Shortly afterward, you discover that the home you’ve always lived in with her was in fact not hers. She never owned that home or any property. She was a long-time renter. Grief and shock lead you back to drinking alcohol after years of sobriety, and you are not able to secure the lease for yourself. The landlord decides to sell the property. In the blink of an eye, you have lost everything. Your mother, your home, and your sobriety. Everything is spiraling out of control. You are homeless and find yourself seeking shelter. You are not the stereotype of a homeless alcoholic.

Imagine…

that you are single mother of 2, staying with your sister. Your sister takes you to work and helps with your children. Then your sister’s boyfriend starts to flirt with you, and your sister blames YOU for his attraction. Your sister then demands that you leave her home immediately, and she will no longer provide transportation or watch your children for you. You have an amazing relationship with your grandmother, and she wants nothing more than to be there for you. But, the one thing you need most is housing, and she lives in subsidized senior housing; a place where you and your children cannot go. You’ve been saving some of your money, so you get a hotel room and Uber to work. Within a month, you are out of money and struggling to manage afterschool care on your own. You can’t get to work 3 days in a row because you have no transportation and no one to watch your kids. As a result, you lose your job. You have no family support, and you and your children are now homeless. You are not the stereotype of a mother who doesn’t care about her children or want the best for them.

Imagine…

that you grew up in a large metropolitan area, and you’ve dreamed of working in the tech field. You hear that RTP is the place to be for all things related to technology and medicine. You do some research, apply for a job, have a Skype interview, and secure a job offer. You take your small savings of $2,000 and move to Durham for a fresh start. You arrive to the area and love it. You love the job, are eager to start and feel like you have finally made the best decision for your future. On your first day of work, you get a call telling you there is a delay in adding you to the schedule due to over-hiring. On day 2, you are told the same thing again. On day 3, you are told that you are actually on a waiting list due to a hiring freeze. You decide to apply for other jobs, while hoping to get a call from the job you thought you’d secured. Only, you have no experience other than a very specific technology trade. You haven’t found a back-up job, and you now have no money and no Plan B. You are seeking shelter. You didn’t just move on a whim. You thought you had a great plan in place. You are not the stereotype of a poor planner or someone who doesn’t look before they leap.

             We all have a story behind the façade we present to the world each day. Our stories are filled with challenges, and facing those challenges almost always means the experience of pain and loss. We truly are not that different from our neighbors who seek help at UMD. But we must hold that truth in tension with the reality that many of us are more insulated from those challenges resulting in our becoming literally homeless. The best human response is to give thanks, practice affirming our own experiences of pain and loss, and extending compassion. But we must begin to walk towards advocacy. The type of advocacy that acknowledges that our safety nets and other worldly privileges can shield us from being unable to imagine the lived experience of someone who is like us, but different than us. Their experiences may be unimaginable to us, but when we stop to hear it holding the tension of how we are alike and how we are different, we can begin to see the world and other people anew. Changing our frame of reference and understanding is how we can then begin to imagine how someone can become homeless. And as John Lennon once sang, we can then begin to imagine a “world that will live as one.”