Shelter Living: What’s it like Spending a Quarter of Your Life in a Shelter

Nobody wants to be in a homeless shelter. I remember the first day I walked through the shelter doors. It smelled like cleaning sprays, and when I stepped on the brown rug, a cloud of dust rose above my head. The supervisor of the shelter walked us to our apartment door. A million thoughts ran through my head at the speed of light. I grabbed my mother’s arm and begged her to take us home. I knew at that moment, standing there clutching my mother, that this wasn’t going to ever feel like home.

We had just settled in when we heard a knock on the door. The supervisor was talking with my mother and I stood behind her grasping her hand. The supervisor listed a bunch of rules that we must follow, one of which is the curfew.

We have to be back inside by 7:30 every night in order to live in the shelter. I feel trapped, isolated from the world. Without a vehicle, we are stuck walking and taking the train to our every destination. This leaves us with no time to do the things we have planned.

One time, one of my friends was in the area for once. We had been planning this night for months, even before I moved to the shelter. I had just come back from summer camp and it was already too late. On this particular night, I had to leave my friend waiting outside because one of the rules the supervisor had listed was no guests. Because she couldn’t come in and I couldn’t go out, I had to cancel our plans by literally yelling out the window, leaving my friend baffled and worried, having come all this way to see me.

Having a curfew and no guests makes it very hard to perform basic necessities of life, like socializing with others. As a young girl, an essential aspect of my childhood, having friends, was stolen from my tiny little hands.

It’s bad enough that we can’t have guests and have a curfew, but even basic actions like sleeping and bathing are very difficult for us. There was a bug infestation in the building, specifically bed bugs. We were given beds made of plastic. I remember the first night I was in shelter like it was yesterday; the plastic from the bed dug very deep into my back and kept me up all night. The beds are very uncomfortable and make it impossible to sleep.  We had to spend loads of money to wash and dry all cloth material to ensure that there were no bed bugs in any of our clothes.

Money was already tight, and it was even worse that we had to waste money on pesky bugs. Living in shelter was already bad and we had the worst roommates ever: bugs. The water problem is another story. It makes taking showers very unpredictable. On one day, the water can be as hot as the sun, and on others, it’s as cold as the Arctic Ocean. You have to be a psychic to predict the temperature of the water. It makes showering an unpleasant chore.

These last four and a half years of living in shelter have been most definitely challenging for my family. I honestly can’t remember what it’s like to have a home: being able to socialize with others, going out without a curfew, and having people in our house. This whole experience that I am still living has shaped my childhood into a whole big mess that nobody wants to clean up.

Caitlyn Marat, a senior at Thayer Academy, helped Maisey Maguire write this piece.