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4 Days of Homelessness

Updated on November 19, 2015

Rethink Homelessness

Jennifer's story

Homelessness can best be explained by those who have experienced it firsthand. For everyone who has experienced homelessness there is a different – and often difficult – story of how they reached such a desperate situation.

The first time you're homeless, the intense feelings of fear and uncertainty are impossible to forget.

If you've never been homeless, it's tough to describe that first night sleeping on the street, or in a car, or under a bridge. The fear and disillusionment can be almost paralyzing. You just go through the motions, but at the same time you're beating yourself up for being in this situation. It is very surreal because no one ever thinks they will become homeless. No one.

Don't come back, or things will get physical!

Jennifer's first night of homeless came suddenly and without warning.

There was a rapid knock on the door, and Jennifer immediately knew who it was. Terrence had come to pick up the kids for church, as requested. She and the kids had been instructed to stay at a "friend's" house for a few days due to an incident at home, but she gave in to the church request.

The door opened. Terrence looked dashing in his Sunday best, as he always did. Must uphold that image. Jennifer had dressed the kids and had them ready. Her friend, Karina, stood at the door with them as he prepared to take the kids to church. "Don't think about coming back to the house. If you do, things are going to get physical," he said.

Looking at her friend, Jennifer asked, "You did hear that right??"

"What? Hear what? I did not hear anything!" replied Karina.

That was the moment she realized that this was not a friend of hers. It was also the last day she had custody of her children for at least 6 weeks.


Day 1: Sleeping in her car.

Jennifer collected what items she had and got into her car. She did not know where she was going as she could not go back to her home, and she certainly was not staying at this "friend's" house any longer.

Hours passed, and Jennifer pulled into a park to sit and think about this road that her life had taken her down.

It got dark, and Jennifer got comfortable to get ready to sleep in the car in the park where she had gone to think. A few hours went by, and suddenly there was a tap on the window as a bright light was shone through. It was a police officer.

"Ma'am, you can't be in here past dusk. The park closes at dark," the officer said to Jennifer.

Jennifer acknowledged the remark, turned on the car and proceeded to leave the park. She drove around for a while until she was sure the officer had gone, and she was in no more danger of being busted again, then returned to the park, turned off the car and went to sleep.

She arose early the next morning to get to work to clean up a little before starting the day, then visiting her children's school to make sure they were alright.

We are all just two steps away from homelessness!

Is something going on?

Jennifer arrived at the school after the bell had rung to ensure she would not have to encounter Terrence. She signed in at the front office, and was told to go to the kids' classrooms.

As Jennifer entered, she was stopped by the teacher, who asked if something was going on, as the kids had been dropped off at school in a very disheveled manner. Clothes were not ironed, nor were they very clean, and her daughter's hair was not combed as neatly as it always was.

Jennifer tried to explain as quickly as possible, trying to hold it together, what had occurred the previous day. The teacher nodded to acknowledge. Jennifer suggested that she could run to a nearby store to purchase some clean items and return to get the kids in a more presentable state.

When Jennifer returned, she was granted some time with the kids to comb their hair and change their clothes, while also getting a chance to spend time with them as that opportunity had been taken away.

This scenario was to play out for the next six weeks, with Jennifer going to the school when she knew the kids had been dropped off, so that she could comb their hair and dress them in clean clothes. Jennifer filed for divorce. Terrence tried to disparage her stating that she was incompetent as a mother, as well as a housekeeper. It was to be a very long, drawn-out and exhausting battle, but one that Jennifer knew she could not afford to lose.

Sleeping in the car, again!

Day 2: Sleeping in the park in her car, again.

Jennifer managed to keep her sanity throughout the day by working at her part-time job, and putting together paperwork for her now-hired attorney who was to see her through this long and arduous battle for divorce and custody.

As night drew close she wondered again, where was she to sleep? Her only option was in her car. She had no money, as she had given all her savings as a retainer for the attorney she had hired. He had come highly recommended, and she felt confident in her choice.

Jennifer spent a few minutes going through the paperwork she had collected from her attorney's, before sleep and exhaustion from the last few days' events overtook her, and her eyes closed, only to be awakened by the loud tapping on the car window and a bright light being shone in her face.

"Ma'am, what are you doing here?" asked the officer. "Just thinking," replied Jennifer. "Just a lot on my mind." "It looks like you're sleeping in your car. Do you not have anywhere to go? You can't sleep here. You must leave, and if I see you here again, I will arrest you."

What choice did Jennifer have? She had to leave. She couldn't risk getting arrested and being thrown in jail. What would her kids do?


Day 3: Sleeping in a hotel room.

Jennifer left the park. It was the first time that the thought of being homeless crept into her mind. She decided to try to get a room at a nearby hotel. She had a credit card, with a little space left on it so she parked her car, and walked inside.

"Room for the night, miss?" asked the friendly face at the reception desk. "Yes, thank you," replied Jennifer.

When you think about everything a homeless person doesn't have, shelter obviously comes to the forefront, but that's just the start of things. Homeless people have problems finding places to shower; just because they don't have a place to call home, doesn't mean they don't want to be clean. Fortunately, there are some places that have public showers, but each has different requirements.

The hot shower that Jennifer experienced that night was a welcomed start to the chain of events that were to take place over the next few days.

For the first time in the last 3 days, Jennifer slept like a log. The exhaustion had caught up with her, and although her mind ran wild with thoughts of the future, and what was going to happen to her and her children, she still managed to get some rest.

In a state of transition


Day 4: Still sleeping in a hotel

Most of you would think that homeless is something you see in plain sight. Maybe you think it's the people you see on the streets pushing that grocery cart filled with everything they own. However, many people you see walking up and down the sidewalks once lived solidly middle class lives but now they are finding shelter in a surprising place - and that's hotels.

Jennifer found herself in a transitional state, and was afraid to let anyone know what was going on with her......until that second night in the hotel room.

Jennifer remembered a conversation she had had with a co-worker, who had given her a business card with all her contact information. "If you ever need or night...use my number."

Rethink homelessness! Cardboard stories.

If you ever need me.....

Rena had been a good friend and coworker. Although Jennifer had remembered the business card, she was very afraid to make the call. What would she say? What would Rena think of her?

Jennifer pushed the numbers on her phone. By now it was around 11:30 p.m....late in her book. She had no business calling someone that time of night, she thought to herself.

After only a few rings, a very friendly voice responded on the other end. Jennifer burst into tears. She could not get a word out, but somehow Rena managed to decipher the urgency of the situation. After calming Jennifer down, she gave her address and told her to get to her house.

Jennifer drove what seemed like hours. When she go to the house, Rena was standing in the middle of the street to greet her. "Park your car in the garage," she said. "I have a room prepared for you, but you must be hungry. Let's go to the kitchen."

"You are welcomed to stay for as long as you need," said Rena. "We will talk about the situation with your children in the morning, and will do everything to get them here, also."

For the next six weeks, Jennifer had a "home." Yes, technically she was still homeless, in the definition of the word, but she was in an environment where she was loved and where her children would eventually be with her.

Jennifer's story doesn't stop here, but for the purpose of this article it does.

For more information on homelessness, and how you can help, please check out facts and figures here.

Book a ‘Room’ at the Homeless Experience Hotel in Gothenburg, Sweden

Want to know what it's like to be homeless? Book a ‘Room’ at the Homeless Experience Hotel in Gothenburg, Sweden

Faktum Hotel in Sweden gives you the experience of the homeless.

The hotel is unique in that it doesn’t actually have any rooms. Instead they offer what they call the complete homeless experience. Customers book online, much like any other hotel. However, upon arrival guests are lead to a pre determined place where the real homeless of Gothenburg might spend their nights.

The hotel handpicks the locations, giving customers a choice of 10 possible locations. A ‘room’ at the Faktum Hotel costs $10 a night. Locations including, a spot under a bridge, a derelict factory, a park bench, a local forest and beneath the seats at a football stadium.

Paying guests can choose whether they wish to sleep at a given destination or not. And should anyone get cold feet at the prospect, the money goes to a good cause all the same. All the revenues earned by the Faktum Hotel are used to support the charity works of Faktum Magazine – a publication set up much like the Big Issue in the United Kingdom. Homeless people sell the magazine on the streets, earning a small income from the proceeds.

What would you do?

Sadly, thousands of people experience their first homeless night each year. No matter what circumstances led to their homelessness -- eviction, foreclosure, unemployment, addiction, mental illness, domestic violence -- being homeless for that first night is painful. Now imagine a personal crisis has hit, and you no longer have access to money or a place to stay. It is now your first night homeless. What would you do?

Emergency assistance programs

If you are not homeless yet, it may be possible to avoid becoming homeless by finding out about prevention or emergency assistance programs in your area. Often these programs can help in paying rent, utilities, or bills.

If you are homeless now, emergency assistance programs may help with health care, food, and temporary, transitional, or permanent housing.

National Coalition for the Homeless

Health Care for the Homeless Information Resource Center

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

You can make a difference!

What you should know about the homeless.

© 2015 Gina Welds


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