Yesterday about mid-morning, while en route to a meeting, I stopped at a 7-11 for a cup of hot chocolate. As I stepped out of the store and started the short walk to where I was headed I ran into a woman who is homeless, and with who I have spoken with several times.
She has a slight mental illness – or more accurately, an emotional disorder. "Janey" however has a higher level of social functionability than many who are afflicted with some form of mental health disorder.
If you stop and talk with her for a few minutes, at first you might not notice anything out of the ordinary other than she speaks just a little bit slower than most people. Yet, her words aren’t slurred, forced or otherwise distorted in anyway that would immediately indicate that she has a disability. Her "slower" speech could easily be passed off as a result of perhaps having lived in a part of the United States where folks do not speak as rapidly as us "West Coast" folks.
Over the past few months since I originally met Janey, each time we’ve run into one another, she always pleasantly asks how I’m doing and if I’m not with my significant other, inquires as to her well being as well.
I’ve seen her wandering, on foot, throughout the city. Sometimes she carries her backpack. Sometimes she has it "stashed" somewhere. What little money she does have, I suspect she receives from Social Security due to her disability – although I can’t be certain of that since I’ve never asked her about that, and she has never offered to tell me.
I did manage to ask her one day why she doesn’t stay at the homeless shelter, to which she remarked that she doesn’t like to stay there but didn’t elaborate further. When I asked her why, I could see that it made her uncomfortable to talk about it. So I decided to try asking the question from a different angle. Finally she confided in me the reasons that she doesn’t stay at the homeless shelter.
When I asked her if she’d ever gone to the Housing Authority office and applied for a Section 8 housing voucher, she told me that she had, but that she had had difficulty understanding all of the rules and regulations that an applicant is required to comply with. She thought that the Housing Authority was going to help her look for a place to live, but instead they gave her a list of places that accept Section 8 vouchers.
Janey hadn’t realized that she was the one who was supposed to actually go out and fill out the rental applications. At the end of 60 days – which is the amount of time the Housing Authority allows you to find and move into a place – her voucher expired. She didn’t understand that she could ask for an extension on her voucher.
After that, Janey pretty much gave up hope of ever having – as she puts it – "a real home" and resigned herself to living life on the streets. She’s also given up trying to receive help from any of the local homeless support service agencies.
I wonder just how many other "Janey’s" there are out there all across our nation?