Back Inside Another Homeless Shelter

City of Refuge

Sometimes things happen. It’s not that I plan it. Here I am back in a shelter once again. My planning and tactics to navigate this life have been atrocious. So, once again I must make the best of a bad situation.

City of Refuge

Being homeless has certainly been trying. Even though I have a strong will, body and spirit, I sometimes wonder if the Universe has been playing tricks on me. I mean, I’ve had some good jobs, been fortunate to own a home and I’ve been rich from time to time. But I seem to end up back in a shelter, and it’s not an easy life.

I’m here at COR (City of Refuge), a women’s shelter in Atlanta, GA. All in all, it’s the cleanest and safest one so far that I’ve experienced. It’s my third time around in a shelter and I must say, I’m impressed. It’s clean, the ladies (residents and staff) are respectful, there are multiple avenues in which to rebuild your life at your disposal. And it gives you enough time with no pressure to renew and rebuild your future.

Chronic Homelessness

Image 2 My Bed

My bed

My first time spent in a shelter was in San Jose, CA in 2007. I slept on a floor on a mat inside a church for three months.

Even though I joined the music ministry and helped advocate for the homeless by participating in rallies, marches, signature campaigns, and other events, it still was a very hard thing to do, returning to that floor each night.

My second time was in a shelter for battered and homeless women and children in Las Vegas, NV in 2016. It was by far the worst living conditions imaginable, even though I slept in a bunk bed on the top bunk. The place was filthy. The women and children were horrendous, and the food was horrible. It was so bad that I wrote a book about it, The Shelter of the Shade Tree a year later.

This is my third time in 2019. As they say, third time’s the charm, because this facility is so much nicer than the other two. It’s located here in the heart of the city of Atlanta, the Black Mecca. It seems that black people are consistently cleaner and more caring than most other races. Speaking from the point of view of being black of course (LOL). I hate to say it but, even though you cannot ever be comfortable living in a shelter, at least here it’s more tolerable.

One thing I’ve noticed is many of the women residing here are over the age of 50. Once that age is reached, you tend to care more about being clean and organized. That’s probably why when the residents clean, they clean. The other two shelters mostly housed young women with children, and they were a mess. I’m sure that makes a big difference.

The City of Refuge, Atlanta, GA

image 3 City of Refuge01

Here at the City of Refuge, which is a huge place, most of the older women try to re-educate themselves in order to fit into today’s growing job base. There are classes in finance, nursing, cooking, etc. To that end, the options for a new vocation are quite possible. Also, those who do have an income are exposed to multiple outlets for housing. Though senior or low-income housing is scarce, they at least can add their names to the various lists available.

COR knows everyone is different. It allows each resident to remain sheltered until something opens for them and they can leave. No other shelter that I know of does this. The norm is that a shelter only gives you 90 days to find your way. After that, time is up – it’s goodbye, regardless of the situation. Including going back out onto the streets. Once your back out there, there’s no coming back in for at least one year. It’s sad.

How It All Came About

I came to Atlanta as a driver for Lyft. I started driving in San Jose, CA. My take home there was an average of $100 to $150 a day. That allowed me to pay for the car rental, which was $250 a week, as well as my housing, $500 a month. The problem was, I shared one room with three other people in a 12-room house with only one kitchen and three bathrooms. Most of the people there were filthy and there were rats and roaches all over the place. It was an unreasonable living condition but nothing else was available within my budget.

I left California and came back to Georgia. I assumed having lived here before, that the cost of living was much cheaper. My research revealed for the same $500, I could get a decent room by myself, with my own bathroom in most cases. But I found out that the difference was not different at all.

Driving for Lyft here in the Metropolitan area, I could barely make enough to pay for the car rental each week. For example, in a 15-minute ride in the South Bay area of CA, I’d make $45 to $50. That same ride here in Atlanta was only $10 to $15. And the high-volume traffic made no difference in either case. The fares charged to the passengers reflected the lower cost of living. Therefore, the drivers made a lot less. There was no way I could know this in advance. So, here I am back in another shelter. At least this time I was prepared for the worst conditions thanks to my past experiences; I could easily cope with the best from COR.

All Shelters Are Not the Same

There are a few differences between COR and the Shelter in Las Vegas. It’s important to note in both cases, I was able to rise above my obstacles. I also made friends with not only fellow residents but also with the staff. The friendly helpful staff members from both shelters allowed me to grow and overcome my self-pity and loss of dignity. For this, I am very grateful.

But the biggest pet peeve I have regarding all three shelters is the food. The homeless deserve to be fed like human beings, not caged animals. Here is an example of the food served in both establishments. (I’ve listed COR’s food items simply because I remember it more clearly. But each shelter is really the same.)

  • Day 1: Lunch – Spaghetti; Dinner – Pulled Pork, Peas
  • Day 2: Breakfast – Sausage Links, French Toast Sticks; Lunch – Spaghetti; Dinner – Spaghetti, Baked Beans, Rice
  • Day 3: Breakfast – Cereal, Oranges, Granola Bars; Lunch – Lunch Meat Sandwiches; Dinner – Potato Salad, Baked Beans
  • Day 4: Breakfast – 2 Sausage Links, English Muffin; Lunch – Cheeseburger w/Tomato; Dinner – Noodles w/Meatballs, Green Beans
  • Day 5: Breakfast – Sausage patty, Egg Patty, Cereal; Lunch – Fried Chicken Breast, Baked Beans; Dinner – Polish Sausage, Baked Beans, Chips
  • Day 6: Breakfast – Processed Eggs, Sausage Patty; Lunch – Meatballs, Rice, Beans; Dinner – Spaghetti
  • Day 7: Breakfast – Pancake on a stick wrapped Sausage Link; Lunch – Salad, Dried Chicken Breast; Dinner – Red Beans, Rice, Salisbury Steak

This is a typical week’s worth of meals. If you switch the meals around, it equals to all the meals consistently throughout the month on a weekly basis. Does it have to be this way? I will say this about COR, at least there’s a medical clinic right across the parking lot. If you get sick, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump for help.

City of Refuge

In Conclusion

If people were more aware of what goes on inside homeless shelters across this country, I believe the conditions would be much better. Each resident would feel much more dignity. COR is a model that should be followed by those who care little for its clientele. Even if they are at their lowest when residents, perhaps when they reach their peaks again, they will become active donors and philanthropists.

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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