Two Years Housed: This Is My Life Now

woman putting fist in air victoriously

It’s a very strange feeling, this so called survivor’s guilt. There is a lot of internal conflict in choosing to chase the horizon again. As wrong as it feels, I do it for myself. I do it for my homeless friends. I do it for revenge. And I do it for redemption. But most importantly, I do it because it’s the right thing to do … because it gives me hope for a better tomorrow.

Before spring comes, I will have been housed for nearly two years. I will have been living in my quaint 1-bedroom apartment, on a tired and quiet Brooklyn street, with the Atlantic Ocean for my backyard, for two whole years. The tugboats and salt water breeze wakes me up every morning. The same stray cat chases squirrels before tiring himself out and choosing to nap in the garden below. My elderly neighbor across the way spits apple seeds out of his kitchen window. And, every Sunday, I put a pot of coffee on. I water my spider plant and succulents before sitting at my desk to write.

Yesterday morning, it rained so hard. Sheets of water rolled down our bedroom window. I watched it blanket the skylight in our bathroom as I showered. Getting ready for a lunch date with a friend, I was embracing normalcy as best as I could. And yes, it is still hard. It is still hard to choose to live. It is still difficult to consciously make an effort to have a normal life. But I do it anyway because I have to.

To not live would be 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.

And, so, I walked 15 minutes through pouring rain for a hot bowl of ramen because I believe it.

He was the first person I told, and I was so scared to tell him. After I finally said it, that I used to be homeless, I regretted it immediately. I thought it was a mistake. “Oh great, I’ve completely shattered any positive image this person might of had about me,” I thought. I have completely changed their perception of who I am. All the good things will be drowned out by every stereotype, every negative message we’ve been fed about homeless people. Things are going to get awkward. He’s not going to want to hang out with me anymore.

But I’ve learned since then that I’ve gotten this whole thing wrong. I realize I am unknowingly internalizing these stereotypes, the negative messaging about homelessness that has plagued me for so long. Repeatedly, I tell myself I must not take the blame for this. I must rise above it, so I can act as an ally – teaching, supporting and fighting instead.

I must be brave.

It was just last week I learned a coworker was nearly three months behind on her rent and at risk of becoming homeless. Her daughter is away at college, and does not know what is happening at home. She tells me her rent is illegal and there is no current lease. She is afraid to confront her landlord about it. What if he kicks her out? She is terrified.

Is her word, her voice, powerful enough to protect her in court? She doesn’t believe so.

But I’ve been to housing court. I’ve done the leg work, the research – I’ve done it all already so she doesn’t have to. I tell her my story, from beginning to end, and I help her. I make the calls, send the emails and copy her on all of them. And we get responses. I’m hopeful. We’ll get through this together.

Another friend recently lost his job and is struggling to find another quick enough. His savings are depleting rapidly. Right now, his income doesn’t even cover his rent.

The woman at the counter calls our number, and we take our piping hot bowls of ramen to the courtyard outside.

“How are things?” he asked.

“I can’t complain,” I said.

“You’ve got heart, kid.” I smiled as he said this.

I guess I do have heart. What does it mean to have heart? That I’m brave? I suppose I am brave.

But I’m angry, too.

As for right now, I’m thankful – to get to get up every morning and commute to a job I actually really like. Thankful I get to come home to a hot meal, a hot shower, and a warm bed every night. I get to write for Invisible People. I get to have ramen dates w/ friends, and even see a movie if I want to. Thankful I can stay up late on Friday nights to play video games. I get to fall asleep on the couch with Netflix playing softly on the television. I’m thankful I get to lay in bed reading comics. I get to bake brownies, order grocery delivery, and have a little Christmas tree. I get to enjoy happiness, leisure and laziness.

All these normal things that housed people get to do, I’m thankful for. These are things I probably would have done in my mid-20s if I weren’t spending so much of it evading, becoming and surviving homelessness.

“I’m glad we did this. Let’s stay in touch, okay?” he said.

We step into the subway station, out of the pouring rain. After a hug goodbye, we run for different trains home.


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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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