This time a year ago I was living just outside of Los Angeles. I was trying to get by, working as many part-time jobs as possible. Unfortunately, the hours weren’t enough so I had more free time than I would have liked. My apartment was within walking distance from a Starbucks, so I would walk there and sit outside with my computer and my dog.
One day, I was sitting outside browsing job postings online when a woman named Suzzanne stopped me and asked if she could pet Chance, who was just a little white fluff ball of a pup at the time. She explained that she once had a dog named Chance, that he was the love of her life. We spoke of the amazing qualities of animals, like how they live in the present, can move past trauma and have undying loyalties toward their humans. It is no wonder to me that we have so many crazy cat ladies in this world.
Anyhow, that turned out to be one of many meetings with Suzzanne. Suzzanne and I spent a lot of time together as she was homeless and I was quite possibly on the verge. We would use my computer to job search and look for potential housing situations. She told me her story, which left me in tears. Suzzanne used to live just a few blocks from this Starbucks, in a nice home, with a nice car, and a nice job. One thing led to another and Suzzanne was on the streets trying to survive with stage 3 cancer.
I must say that in my neighborhood it was not common to see a homeless person. Suzzanne said she stayed in this area because she felt safe and because she had a lot of friends and supporters who looked after her. Even Starbucks allowed her to sleep in a cozy, leather chair until they closed at 11pm.
It became a ritual that we would look for each other every day. We spent many hours talking about the misconceptions of what it meant to be homeless. Suzzanne spoke of how some people would rather give her food than money, but sometimes she had a full stomach and what she really needed was to buy minutes for the phone, that she carried tightly around her neck. She said, “Just because I am homeless doesn’t mean that I need to eat all day long or that I am always starving and I surely don’t have room to carry all of this extra food, nor do I want to waste it.” She also told me stories of how people would judge her because she didn’t look homeless. Suzzanne took pride in applying her lipstick daily and looking as clean and well put together as possible. She said she had one man scream at her because she didn’t look dirty enough to be homeless. She also spoke of concern for safety as she had endured beatings and rapes from other people who were homeless.
I began to see that everyone who is homeless has a unique situation. While each person’s struggles, intentions, and story is different, at the end of the day, we should all be able to have our basic needs met. We have a right to safety, housing and healthcare.
The first week of January last year, I celebrated Suzzanne’s birthday with her. Some of her homeless friends and supporters from the community joined together at a local pizza joint to celebrate making it through another day, thus another year of life. Suzzanne even saved up her own money from panhandling to buy herself a birthday cake. I often look back at the pictures from this night as it reminds me of the amazing ability humans have to survive and to heal, even in the worst of circumstances.
Just a few days later, Suzzanne was beaten up and mugged and her phone was stolen. I had heard through the grapevine that she was trying to recover from several broken ribs and was desperately trying to find her phone, which was her lifeline. In the meantime, I had a personal crisis and had to leave LA for the east coast. I never had the chance to say goodbye to my friend.
Throughout the year, I tried many times to reach Suzzanne, but to no avail. Last week I attended Middletown’s National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day Event and I could not stop thinking of her. I wondered if she was alive and if anything about her situation had changed. On Christmas Eve, I dug out my old phone with her phone number stored in it and decided to call one last time. She answered and my heart filled with joy. She had a new phone but was able to get her old number back. “Oh sweet pea, how I have missed you,” she said. My Christmas was complete.
Thank you to WYA staff member, Agi Erickson, along with AmeriCorps members Tasha Germain and CHC staff and community members, for your support in raising awareness against homelessness. The winter months are long for those who are homeless, so please keep them in mind by donating to your local food pantry, shelter, or soup kitchen.
Furthermore, the AmeriCorps sponsored Cell Phone Drive in support of New Horizons Domestic Violence Shelter will be ongoing until January 12th!!
Drop off boxes are located in the ION finance building in Middletown, and in the staff commons in New Britain, Meriden, Clinton, and Stamford.
If there is not a collection box at the site where you are located and you would like to donate or host a box, please contact Callie Moore at [email protected].