By Yahaira Henriquez, Case Worker at Accessible Housing
I love the feeling I get when I turn my front door key and hear it unlock the door which leads me to my palace – my home. As I enter, all the familiar smells, home furnishings and pictures hanging on the walls welcome me. I usually kick off my shoes, jacket and put down my bag so I can start getting comfortable; it is this feeling of comfort which I have grown accustomed to. My home allows me to exercise my dreams of being a famous home decorator, placing picture frames where I want them, changing the colors of my curtains or moving the furniture around to fit my desires. In my home I can be that famous chef I always wanted to be, I can cook some fancy meals or just stick with scrambled eggs and toast. In my home I can sleep in late or stay in my pajamas all day, watching my favorite shows and movies. But my very favorite thing is to wake up to the sound of my coffee maker as it starts doing its job, dripping that delicious liquid into my favorite mug, and when it is done the smell fills my home and it invites me to indulge in it, to enjoy my right to have a home, to participate in the privileged life I have been given.
Inside my home is a piece of heaven, a blessing which many times I take for granted, why? Because it is always there.
I have looked out my kitchen window many times and enjoyed the view of my garden blooming and thriving with all the colors of the rainbow. But what about looking beyond the garden? Lifting my gaze to what is lurking outside my fence… ah, yes, there he is. He is on time every time. Picking up empty bottles and wishing for a warmer day. He is a respectable bottle picker, he has a system and a route to follow, he has a schedule to keep, and has specialized equipment to aid in his daily task, two hands and a black garbage bag. One thing is for sure of what he does not have – a home. He will make enough for food today, but not enough to create a home.
Many times I am asked what it is what I do for a living and then how and why? I am a Case Worker. I help individuals who experience homelessness find a place to live, I support their efforts to find that piece of heaven, a home. The “how” is important, but the why is the motor. The why I do what I do is what motivates me; we live in a world where if you can’t have social status you don’t belong, society judges according to income, material possessions, what we look like and what we wear. Society seems to not want to put up with the less-able, and so we have set up special places and call them shelters. There are many portraits of what a shelter user is; many reasons why our fellow brothers and sisters might need to go and stay at a shelter. Put your ideas and judgements aside; many of these individuals are society’s working poor, barely making enough to feed themselves, pay a cell phone and other bills, but not enough to pay for a home. Many of them are sick and abandoned by systems, many experience physical illnesses, addictions and mental health concerns. But have you ever been to your city’s shelters?
Let me give you a tour.
There is no key to unlock the front door. There are no welcoming pictures and no comfortable sofa waiting. The smells are not hospitable and inviting. If the time is right, you can see a long line up at the door of men and women waiting to get a 3 inch mat to sleep in; get there early or the last mat may be given away to the man in front of you. In some shelters, a person is buzzed into the sleeping area where their mats have been numbered for easier distribution. There are line ups. Line ups everywhere, a savage sight. Line up for supper, line up for the toilet. In some places showers are first come, first serve and there is always a line up. This is not bad you might think, oh but wait, I am not done. Most of these men and women don’t want to be there. A shelter takes the light out of their spirit. The cycle of poverty is kept alive, fed by the mechanics of intimidation. It is hard to get out of the shelter system and many individuals become permanent users. Exposure to gang related violence welcomes all new and vulnerable individuals. If you are a woman who is not attached to someone, the chances of abuse are high. If you are also disabled, your vulnerability increases even more.
There are so many stories I could tell you about the people I work with, the ones that have no home; stories of abuse, stories of a jungle of violence which grows by the killing of the human soul. So, why do I do what I do? I help the people find their home; I help them shed the shelter life and the trauma they have experienced, I support men and women in their efforts to make a positive change. I am a partner who walks with them into the world, I am a guide. I just believe everyone should have a home.