Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Shelter Life: The Walking Wounded

It seems like every time I walk around the shelter these days I see people who are walking with the aid of walkers, or crutches, or not walking at all because they are in wheelchairs. I see arms in slings and legs in casts. The numbers are increasing, not decreasing.

I hear coughing all the time, and not just from me. The guy who just moved into the bed next to me coughed so hard that he passed out, and he says it's happened before. He refused to be taken to the hospital for whatever the reason.

People think of homeless as bums who just want a hand out. As one who is one of those walking wounded, I object to the stereotype. But my wounds are not obvious. I can walk, though with a limp. I walk in pain, though not a great deal of it, but if I go downstairs or upstairs, you may notice me taking them one at a time. I walk up a step with my left leg then bring my right leg with me. Repeat as necessary. The opposite is true, even more so, because stepping down on my right leg causes more pain and I'm afraid that the leg will give in.

My shoulder is even less obvious, unless I am requested to lift something. I got chewed out by another homeless guy because he didn't see anything wrong with me. Use your eyes, please.

The point is, though, that everyone's perception is different and you can't tell a book from its cover. Even though my body is not at 100%, my mind is. Give me something to do with my mind. I'll prove it.

In other news, I am taking the START Hospitality course at Wake Tech, and as the course draws to a close, the opportunities are starting to open up. For instance i had an interview yesterday at a Hilton Garden Inn in Raleigh, and the manager there apparently knew the guy who runs the Hospitality course. With my teeth the way they are (come on, Voc Rehab, get your a$$ in gear) I don't think I made a very good impression, but at least I am making the effort, and just getting the interview is an experience that will help with other interviews.

Hope is all I have left at this point.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Personal Space

While riding the bus today, I had a guy sit next to me, and he sat very close. I mean very close. I usually just shift my position to allow for a little personal space but then a turn came and the man leaned into me. I asked him politely not to do that, but the man didn't seem to hear me. I forced my arm in between us and he seemed to get the idea, but never said a word for the entire trip, and never moved further away.

I bring this up because in the shelter space is extremely limited. First, you sleep in a bunk bed, with maybe 4 feet between you and the bunk above. The guy in that bunk moves, the whole bunk moves. You feel it, upper or lower. Second, the space between bunks is about 3-4 feet. The guy next to you sneezes or coughs, you get splattered. I've splattered a few myself lately. It's not intentional. I've seen the guy in the next bunk sitting on his bunk, his knees a few inches from my bunk and that makes me nervous, for some reason. The person in the bunk above me, for whatever the reason, likes to stand up and putter around his bunk. Which means his body is too close to mine. It makes me feel uncomfortable.

In the dining hall, when we line up for breakfast or dinner, some people simply get too close. When we sit at the tables, there are not individual chairs, it's a bench, and some people like to get close then too. I had one of my friends tell me that one time the guy behind me was trying to touch my back in a less than friendly manner, or perhaps too friendly is the right phrase.

I'm not homophobic, I have a few gay friends. I am not gay. I don't like being touched by any man, that's just the way I am. Even a pat on the back can seem like an invasion of my space.

There are a number of guys in the shelter that have problems sharing a shower. I'm not one of them. Earlier today there was almost a fight because someone was insisting on taking a shower alone. In my dorm there are 40 guys, and 7 shower heads. There aren't enough hours in the day for everyone to take a private shower. So you can see the problem.

In the shelter personal space is at a premium. As the center manager, Frank Lawrence has said, 'for you to survive the shelter, you have to adapt.' It's not an easy task.