My Life After Homelessness: 5 Years Housed

Anxious about homelessness

Sometimes I can’t believe how long it’s been since experiencing homelessness. It doesn’t feel like it’s been five years. All I know is my life has never been the same.

I had hardly settled into my roof over my head before COVID-19 came. Like many, my life revolved around this pandemic in all ways. I didn’t know what to expect. All I remember was being scared. I was afraid of dying. I was afraid of my friends and family dying. And people have died.

I’m still scared. I caught COVID over the holidays and continued to suffer through long COVID through most of the spring.

Then it got worse.

Before I knew it, it wasn’t just long-COVID (or post-viral syndrome). It was the flu, then a lung infection. Then that lung infection lingered in my chest, causing minor lung damage and chest pain. This has made the last month very scary. Not only am I worried about my health, but I am also unable to work as commuting is too much stress on my lungs.

As you can imagine, if I can’t work, I can’t pay my rent. If I can’t pay rent, I can’t live here. If I can’t live here, well, you get the idea.

And this is when privilege comes into play and saves me for the hundredth time.

Was I terrified out of my mind? Yes. But this time, I wasn’t renting from a millionaire slumlord. This time I had support from friends, family, and I’ve been communicating with my landlord about my health for months. She negotiated to lower my rent for now, and I will be okay.

It’s not perfect, and it could be better, but I don’t think I’ll become homeless because of this.

I reflected on what things were like the last time I wrote a similar article. Even the year before that, I can see how much homelessness has changed my life, changed who I am – and continues to.

Of course, when COVID hit, I was so glad to be housed. I couldn’t imagine the horror of navigating COVID inside a crowded homeless shelter, potentially seeing other poor and homeless people around me, with poor health and little access to medical care, die.

A lot of homeless friends have died since COVID — more of my homeless friends than coworkers, friends, or family members. COVID was hard for me, even with a roof. I really doubt I’d survive it in different circumstances.

I gained so much when I gained a home – access to mental health services and psychiatric medication, a support network of friends, and I reconnected with my Mom. I found friendship, loved a whole lot, and my life changed.

Of course, it wasn’t perfect because I re-entered this life with much trauma. But I’m grateful to have access to help to process, manage, and hopefully, heal that trauma.

This week I found myself in pits of despair.

I was lost, unsure where I belonged or if life was worth living, if anything was worth doing, if writing this was worth writing. There was no rest or comfort on the horizon. I couldn’t see how it mattered, how I mattered.

I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in this dark place. But then, amidst that, I noticed I could take a train to Philadelphia for $10 if I didn’t mind traveling before sunrise. I realized if I died, I would never see my Mom again, and it had been years since I had last seen her. I’d never see a person I loved so much, my best friend, Drew.

None of these things were possible while living in a homeless shelter because I’d lose my bed. I realized I’d already been through so much and had conquered a lot of despair.

I looked back on the last couple of years and saw how much hope I carried wherever I went. How much passion, how much determination, and how much love I had for the most important things and people.

To not live would mean letting my ex-slumlord win. It would be letting the courts win, the politicians win, the capitalists win – the whole system win. And I refuse to let them win. I refuse to believe I am not stronger, that we are not stronger, than all of this. Because we are, but we have to believe it.

Two Years Housed: This Is My Life Now

“I have to do it. All of it. For that girl sitting on that dirty mattress. For that girl sitting at a bus stop with a duffle bag after the sheriff came. I have to do it for the girl who paced back and forth in the courtroom, fury and fire vibrating off her. I have to do it because someone said she couldn’t.

I have to do it for everyone who died out in the cold, who lost their lives to despair, who still had a flicker of hope within their glowing heart. I had to do it for everyone I’ve met or reconnected with since I found my way out of the dark. I have to do it for all the love in my heart.”


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Jocelyn Figueroa

     

Jocelyn Figueroa studied Creative Non-Fiction at The New School and is a blogger and freelance writer based out of New York City. Formerly homeless, she launched her own blog discussing shelter life in New York City. Today, Jocelyn is on a mission to build connections through storytelling and creative writing. Check out her book about homelessness at https://ko-fi.com/scartissueproject

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