A Saving Encounter on the Streets
During the late summer of 2005, I found myself homeless. I spent two weeks in an overnight shelter in the city of Camden, New Jersey. Most people would consider this a terrible and frightening situation. However, providence allowed for a different situation and outcome. To begin my story, I suffer with mental illness. My mental illness was not the direct cause of my homelessness, but an indirect cause. I had been living in my own apartment for several years, working a fulltime position as a human services case worker. However, the stress of the position resulted in my first hospitalization in a psychiatric hospital. I spent nine months in the hospital, during which I became stabilized. Because of the length of time, I lost my apartment. The loss of my apartment started a whirlwind of circumstances, some good and some bad.
After my stay in the hospital, I lived in boarding homes. The boarding homes were private residences, where the owners were licensed to take in clients. Most of the owners treated me kindly, some not so kindly. I had to deal with jealous women and men offering propositions, in the boarding homes which housed coed clients. As a condition of my residence, I had to attend a partial-care behavioral health program during the day. The program was an opportunity to socialize, but my time at the not so comfortable boarding homes made me more resilient to find my way back to having my own home.
I had a case worker assigned to me. At first, she seemed kind and concerned. I would try to call her at her office every week so that she could help me find my own apartment. I would leave several messages for her. She would not return my phone calls. I became very frustrated and felt hopeless. I left my last boarding home in the middle of the night. I felt fearful and unsafe. I snuck out without telling anyone, leaving behind all my clothes and possessions. Because I had money coming in, I was able to take a taxi to a hotel. The next day, as a means for revenge for my poor treatment by the owner of the boarding home, I canceled the money order I gave her the previous day, for the current month’s rent. Then, I attempted to call my case worker.
My caseworker was forced to come visit me at the hotel because I told her supervisor that I did not feel safe at the boarding home. Upon her arrival, she treated me with disdain; she acted as if she had a poor attitude. I tried to explain to her that I wanted to get my own apartment and that I had the money to do as such. She would not listen to me. She was busy talking on her cell phone. I started to cry and became so angry that I turned over the night desk. Although I would not hurt a fly, she stood there watching to see if I would come toward her in a violent manner. I knew that if she were truly afraid, she would have turned around and left immediately, but she was taunting me. As per agency rules when affronted with possible violence, my case worker finally left me standing alone in my hotel room. I was so scared of being left alone without any help, I went after her. I followed her all the way to her car, begging her without shame, not to leave me. She ignored me and drove off.
Because the hotels were not for extended stays, I had to go to one hotel to the next until I ran out of money. At the last hotel, I was so stressed that I fainted in the lobby of the hotel. I was taken, by ambulance, to a hospital in Camden, New Jersey. While there, a social worker found a shelter where I could stay the night. The shelter was a row home in the city. The men slept upstairs while the women slept downstairs. I was very nervous and a little afraid. There was no room to be judgmental of the other people; we were all in the same situation. The shelter was only temporary; everyone had to leave in the morning. If anyone wanted to stay again, he or she had to come back the next day just before the shelter opened.
There was a young, Caucasian man that befriended me who also stayed at the shelter, with me being African American. He was quite handsome. I found out later, through our conversations, that he was Jewish. I had to go back to the shelter for two weeks. I did not know anything about the city, nor did I know my way around it. This young man was a Godsend to me. He took me to a place to get clothing. I was fortunate to find a bag of donated clothing that did fit me, and the clothing was very fashionable. I did not miss a meal. The young man and I went to a local church for our daily meals. The food was satisfying and delicious.
Obviously, there was nowhere to clean up or take a shower. The gentleman that directed the shelter allowed me to get up early before anyone else to wash up in the bathroom with some donated toiletries. I thanked God for his kindness. I felt blessed and protected because I had somewhere to lay my head down at night, food to eat, and clothes on my back.
My time on the streets of Camden, New Jersey came to an end. I did not see the realities of city life: the drugs, crime, and prostitution. I did see the poverty, however. The young man must have seen that I was becoming too attached and comfortable to him and this city life. He had to implement some tough love. He took me to a one-stop agency that helped homeless individuals. He said that he had to leave me there because he had to continue by himself. He said that I would find help at this center. We said goodbye to each other. That was the last time that I saw the young, handsome man.
The one-stop agency did help me. That day I was placed in a shelter for women with mental illness. The shelter was a full-service agency. I was able to stay during the day and night, take showers there, and receive my meals there. I received counseling and guidance to help me get back on my feet.
Today, I have lived in my own home for over seven years. I have earned two degrees, including a Master’s. I have written two award-winning books of inspirational poetry. I remain thankful for what I do have, never taking it for granted. I did call the shelter, where I and the young, handsome man had a brief encounter, to thank the director for being so kind to me and for watching over me. I believe that I had to experience homelessness to make me strong for whatever destiny God has planned for me, and for my ability to relate to and console others. As such, I have no regrets.
My name is La Shea A. Stanard. I am a writer and author of inspirational poetry. I believe that we all have different experiences that lead to similar life lessons. We also all have gifts that can lift us to new heights, if we allow them. I write poetry to express those common, life lessons for clarification and inspiration. My life motto comes from my favorite poet: “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” –William Shakespeare (Hamlet)
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