Things I Learned From Living in a Homeless Shelter. No. 2

In 2007, I spent several months living in a homeless shelter. It was one of my greatest experiences. One that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It was a gift actually. I had so much to learn and the universe didn’t let me down. It gave me the gift of “rock bottom.” Some of the knowledge I now possess, could not have been learned in any other way. I wasn’t unhappy in the shelter, I turned it into an adventure, and kept a great sense of humor. That is why you’ll find that some of my examples are rather humorous. Others though, are very serious.

Homeless Shelter Learns, No. 2:

I learned to be more compassionate – by fifty-fold. Yes, I suppose it was that significant. Well, I saw some serious heartache. Could you ever guess that some people are so lonely and hurting so badly that they sleep with detergent bottles for comfort, holding them near and dear like a baby? Probably not.

Shock, right? Who would think of this until they have seen it?

I used to watch her, as she slept, and wonder what it was, EXACTLY that made her hurt so much. It puzzled me and it made me want to cry. She was such a pretty woman, and I could see that inside she was beautiful, too, and yes, I could also see the internal battles raging, though I had no idea what started the war. I wanted to reach out, to ask a million questions, to give her a hug, but I knew better. She just had that look, “Stay away!” I respected the look, but I tried anyway to at least make eye contact, to offer a smile. A couple of times she did smile at me, a quick jerky smile with another look that said, “You look like a nice person, but I’m sorry, I’ve just been through too much and I can’t bring myself to trust you.” I understood. Somehow, I did.

What bothered me the most was to see her ridiculed. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but many shunned her, picked away at her mind, laughed behind her back, instead of trying to understand that she must have been in terrible pain. That made me want to scream. Oh yes, it did. I wanted to yell at those people and tell them to have some compassion, but I didn’t. I knew better than to do that, too. If you dared to raise your voice, you’d find yourself in some SERIOUS trouble. In fact, you could get kicked out of the shelter for acting out in any way. So, I just held it in, and I suppose the holding in was one of the main reasons why I had such a hard time dealing with anger when I finally left the shelter. I had no frustration tolerance. Well, I can’t blame me, really. It was hard to watch the pain.

Stay tuned for No. 3…

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28 responses

  1. I’ve been through a lot but I’ve never lived in a homeless shelter. The idea of being homeless terrifies me. I’m glad the experience enriched you. Seems you have strength that most don’t. Congrats.

  2. You write about this woman with such compassion and beauty. I’d think she’d appreciate having her story told like this, and the impact it has had on you–not many would find this sense of understanding under these conditions. <3

  3. Been there done that..*nodnod* For someone with any amount of empathy, living in that sort of situation can be…difficult, but enlightening. I’ve spent a total of perhaps 6 months in shelters over 20 yrs. and maybe 2 yrs. total homeless and 2 close to. (non-residence hotel rooms, one room/shared bath YWCA, etc.)

    The people I met ran the full gamut, and while I would never recommend anyone do it on purpose, (unless that’s your thing… ;) ) I’ll say that I learned invaluable and otherwise inaccessible life lessons during those yrs. :)

  4. Thank you for sharing such intimate insight. I am appalled of the number of homeless people. I am sure you know this but 1/3 of all homeless are Veterans which is just another example of the US’s abuse of power.

    Take care and continue to cultivate compassion.

  5. Again thank you for sharing these insights. It takes a very special person to go through all that hardship and come out stronger and kinder. These are shocking situations and frankly I get so angry because human beings are cruel and greedy. Reading about 1 bn dollar deals between facebook and instagram for example one can’t help but think: wait a minute, too few people have almost everything and too many have nothing. The random assignment of value to things with the implied purpose of self-serving one’s ego and greed is disgusting to say the least.

    Ok I am rambling, so I’m going to stop. Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this about yourself. I applaud you for being fearless and sharing your experience.
    My Father was homeless and died as a homeless man… your words weigh heavily in my mind as I try to imagine what life was like for him. Thank you. It is good to step outside of ourselves and get new perspectives… and you are helping me to realize things I couldn’t unless I experienced it myself. My imagination will never compare to your experience I am sure.


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