Commentary by LaQuita Phillips
I never imagined I would become homeless. We grew up living kind of in poverty, but we always had food and a house to stay in. When I found myself on the verge of homelessness I went to one of the housing agencies in the city, where my mom works, in order to get help with paying rent. However, I had to spend at least one night at a shelter before they could work with me, and that’s how I ended up at Norma Herr Women’s Shelter. When I first arrived at the shelter I knew it was going to be a horrible experience because of that depressing musty smell that hovers throughout the building. When I first got there my social worker gave me a little information on what I was going to do after I got out of the shelter with the housing organization in order to get into housing, but no information on how to survive in the shelter.
I sat in the cafeteria for a while just observing the people around me and then they went to serve the food but it was hard cake hot dogs and soggy bread. I spent some time in prison and the food reminded me of the florescent gravy and rock hard biscuits I had for breakfast in prison. Not only did the food remind me of prison, but also the constant sense of fear that someone was going to steal my stuff or jump me at any moment. I slowly began to realize how much worse other people had just eavesdropping on conversations about how people were making money and how long they had been in the shelter.
I finally made friends with a little old seemingly mentally challenged women and we were just talking and all of the sudden these two ladies got in a fight and one of the women ended up getting her head busted open. The workers came out and they told the women with the bleeding head that there was nothing wrong with her and she should just get up. They told her it was her fault for mouthing off to the other women. I still don’t know if she ever ended up in the hospital or just dealt with the bleeding head. My friend told me that was common here.
My friend took me on a tour of the building so that I could get a lay of the land and figure out how to survive for the night. I went to the basement and it reminded me of the arena everyone was sleeping in after hurricane Catrina and just smelled worse than upstairs. I went to go to the bathroom, one of the bathrooms didn’t work and looked like it had been flooded and the ceiling was falling in and people were using drugs in the restroom. The next one wasn’t much better with what I hope were lip stick stains on the sink and hair and trash gathered in the drain in the middle of the floor.
I came out and knew I couldn’t do another day of this. I still hadn’t eaten yet so I went with the hot dog stand and got a hot dog with my new friend and ended up eating it on the steps in front of the shelter in the rain because you’re not allowed to bring food into the shelter
I finally get ready to go to bed and after a long journey to get a bed I slept with all of my belongings on my body so that no one would steal my stuff. They had lockers which you could keep your stuff in but unless you had a lock that was liking giving your stuff away. I slept in a room with three other women. One pregnant women on the floor and another very intimidating women on the bunk below me. The women who had earlier bashed in a women’s head and her friends were on their own floor blasting music and turning up like they were at their own house. Throughout this whole experience there was very little interaction between the workers, who were supposed to be keeping us safe, and the women in the shelter.
Fortunately, I only had to spend one night at Norma Herr and had a much more pleasant experience with the housing agency. They set up a price range that would work for me and after filling out some paper work I found house within two weeks. They ran inspections of the house for you before you move in and pointed out stuff that you wouldn’t catch on to like a cracked step and got it all squared away before you moved in. They continued to work with me for the first four months and kept in touch with me to make sure I was still working and kept me on the right track in order to make sure I was able to stay in that house after their time with me was done. I’ve been working at McDonald’s and its money but it’s not enough to support me and my son. They tried to take me off of food stamps but the people at the housing agency actually took care of me and got me back on food stamps somehow. I’ve been living at my place for the last year and I never want to go back to that shelter ever again.
If I could give one piece of advice to Norma Herr is get some new workers who actually care about the people there and don’t let people beat everyone up. And work on your food, because it is inedible.
Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle April 2016 Issue 23.2 Cleveland Ohio