An Important Lesson About Shelter Life

shelter life

Getting Used to a New Routine

While living at the City of Refuge (COR), it took me three months just to get used to the routine. It wasn’t too bad. Up each morning at 4:45 am to take a shower and get ready before everyone else wakes. It’s funny because I use to get up at 5 am. But I’d still run into a few people. Sometimes I’d have to either choose a shower stall I didn’t like or wait on the one I’d grown accustomed to.

Yes, I admit it. I’m a creature of habit. There is a certain shower stall I choose to use each day. It seems cleaner with less mildew and mold. The actual shower head streams wider and harder and the water is a little hotter. At least I’ve convinced myself of this. Now I’ve grown smarter and I set my alarm to 4:45 am. No one else has thought of this little trick. I’m in the shower before anyone else because they wait until 5 am; the official wake-up time is 6 am. Sneaky, right?

Anyway, I grasped the routine with the showers, meals, chores, and curfew so my days have been going pretty smoothly. I keep mostly to myself, though I’ve made a few friends. Fewer friends brings less drama, which means fewer troubles coming my way. I’m out of sight, and out of mind when it comes to the RSAs and that’s always a good thing.

There was only one thing sticking in my mind, which was not cool.

I was told when I first arrived I would be moved after 30 days into a more personal space. But after two months, I was still stuck in the main intake room with 20 other women and no privacy. It takes real patience not to complain. One woman used to put a bug in the RSA’s ear every day after her 30 days were over. Because of this, she was always getting into trouble for the smallest things. That’s what happens when you complain.

shelter life

Then, finally, the day came. Two months and three days into my stay, I was assigned a space of my own. The one thing about being in the main room was that there were no wall sockets readily available for me to plug in my laptop and phone. So, I had to always go into the day room to work. The TV was constantly on – loudly – and I’d have to fight for a socket among others.

In my cubicle, I have access to the socket right next to me. There are only a few in the room so they’ve set up multiple line surge protectors for everyone. But the great part is, now everyone has to come to me in order to plug in their phones. The only drawback is, I have to be aware that someone will enter my space periodically when I’m not expecting them to. But that doesn’t shadow the fact that I can plugin at any time.

Keep Your Mouth Shut

Chores are assigned for two weeks, then rotated out. I’ve been assigned to clean toilets, wash windows, sweep the cafeteria floor, etc. At this time, my chore was to sweep and mop the main intake room. Now that I’ve moved out, I still had this chore for another week. So I returned to the room for this purpose. Otherwise, anyone who has moved out is not allowed back into the room.

One night, I was mopping the room. One of the new intakes’ area was overflowing with stuff. An RSA had to tell her to clean it up and organize her stuff. She said while we’re out of the dorms each day, visitors come in and look around to assess what’s needed or how they can contribute. Sometimes maintenance comes in to fix things. Upper management will also tour the facility to make sure everything is okay. Unfortunately, someone came in earlier that day and saw the mess she had left in her area. Of course, the bad news trickled down and got the RSAs in trouble for not specifying cleanliness in the rooms.

When the RSA left the room after telling the new intake about her area, she quickly made snide remarks to her back saying things like “who cares”, “I’ll clean it when I’m ready”, “she don’t scare me, they can’t kick me out for this stupid reason.” Needless to say, she could care less and didn’t even attempt to clean things up.

Now, normally, I’d stay out of it.

But I just didn’t like the fact that she was so non-caring about it. Plus, her attitude could result in us losing a service or reward from a donor based on her filthy area. Also, I could see others in the room react by rolling their eyes and shaking their heads. This was probably a hot button issue in the dorm. So, I spoke up to her.

“Hey sister, I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but don’t you think that you should respect the RSA? After all, she was nice about it and she could have been mean. Besides, it’ll also be respectful to your neighbors here in the room. It’s much easier to get along with everyone than to cause problems. Everybody has to do the same thing and keep their areas clean right?”

“You’re kidding me!” she shouted back, even though my tone was soft and even, “Who the #@% is you to tell me @#$!”

Then she stormed out of the room. I knew I should have kept my mouth shut, but something in me urged me to speak up. Another girl in the room then said,“Thank you for trying to help, we’ve all told her about it, but she doesn’t care.”

“We just have to deal with it.” Said a third girl, “Can’t wait to get outta here.”

The woman stormed back into the room with an RSA hot on her heels. The RSA, Monique, walked up to me and said, “Can I see you out in the hallway for a minute?”

Oh boy, here we go.

The first time I’d been singled out. At least this would be only my first write-up after being here two months, and it was for a good cause. I didn’t think it would be so bad. When we got to the hall with me following Monique, she stopped and turned around and looked over my head to the messy girl who had also followed us out.

“It’s okay Jessica, I’ve got this, you can go back inside.”

“I have a right to hear what you’re gonna do about it.”

“No, you don’t, go back inside please.”

Jessica gave me an evil sneer, then turned around and went back into the room. Monique quickly told me she would handle Jessica’s messiness and that she’s already been written up a couple of times. Nothing’s going to happen to me but I should just keep quiet about it so I don’t cause any further problems with the girl. She’d hate for a fight to ensue; I may be put out because of it. In other words, Monique came to my defense and warned me in order to protect me from Jessica. Wow, I didn’t even know that Monique took any notice of me.

This whole incident made me feel even better about my situation at COR. And now that I have my own private space, I know things are really looking up. It just goes to show you that one of the most important things you can do while living in a shelter, is to keep your mouth shut, and your opinions to yourself. Stay beneath the radar of those in charge, and handle your business in order to get out as soon as possible.

Allison Whitfield

Allison C. Whitfield


Allison Cherise Whitfield, author of "the Shelter of the Shade Tree", writes from an inside point of view. Having experienced homelessness in San Jose, CA, Venice Beach, CA, Las Vegas, NV and Atlanta, GA, she is an advocate in the fight against homelessness. At this time, she is living in a homeless shelter in Atlanta, GA.

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