Grateful For a Shelter, But Life Still Isn’t Easy

Mary Felix
Spare Change News

I am a mother of three. I was homeless in 2001 and got pregnant in 2002 for the first time. Six months later, I got my housing. But I had to give up my housing because I was in a violent domestic relationship, and I was afraid the man was going to hurt me. So I moved in with my mom.

I went back and forth between living at my mom’s and renting a room in a rooming house for two years. Then I ended up pregnant again. I had to become homeless again, because I didn’t want to live in a bad environment for the baby.

I have been homeless for five years off and on, and went from having a house to not having a house because I was afraid.

I went to two shelters while pregnant with my third child, who will turn one soon. Both shelters had different rules. At one, you could be there and not know if you were going to get a bed sometimes. At times, I was at work late and couldn’t get a contract bed, so I had to sleep outside. Some people will do crazy things, like getting locked up to stay in jail, or getting sick on purpose to stay in a hospital for a few nights, just to have a place to sleep.

Then I went to a shelter that had breakfast, lunch and dinner. You could stay there all day, but to sleep there you had to take part in a lottery to see if you were getting a bed. I could go see my kids every weekend by asking for two nights out.

I’m now living in a shelter with my youngest son, and I only get one night a week to visit my other children, who are staying with my mom.

Can you imagine living in a family shelter over the holidays? And having no right whatsoever to cook without a cooking contract? A cooking contract is a letter from a doctor that allows you to cook your own food instead of eating the food provided by the shelter.

This shelter has a curfew — you have to be in by 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11:30 pm Fridays and Saturdays.

They check to see if you’re there at night and in the morning, and to see if your room is clean. If you’re not there, you get an infraction, because they assume that you have a place to stay. If you get an infraction, then you really won’t have a place to stay. I only get four nights out per month and I can’t go see my kids every weekend. It hurts me inside out when my kids ask if I can live with them, or when my housing is going to come.

I have my one-year-old staying with me. The people at the shelter tell me how to raise my child, and if I don’t follow orders, I could get in trouble and possibly get kicked out.

I am thankful that I had somewhere to go for the holidays — some people have no family or friends to share their thanks.

I am thankful for my family and friends and my kids, and that I have a roof over my head and my son’s head. Other people sleep outside in the cold because they don’t want to follow the shelter’s rules, and people look at them like they have ten heads.

We are people just waiting for a house to call home.

Christmas was rough because of a shelter rule that all of your possessions had to fit into two 30-gallon trash bags per person. I couldn’t get any big presents for my son’s first Christmas, so he suffered because of this rule.

The next time you see someone sleeping on a bench or outside, just treat them how you would want to be treated. Put yourself in their shoes for a day and think: if it were you or one of your loved ones, how would you feel if someone did the things that people do to homeless people, like beat them up, rob them, laugh at them or judge them?

MARY FELIX lives in a homeless shelter in Boston and is a Spare Change News writer and vendor. She sells the paper on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge.

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