Letter To The Editor

Posted: September 8, 2008 in Discrimination, Employment, Family, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Hopes, Misconceptions

Note to my readers –

One of my dearest friends belongs to a creative writers group. The purpose of this group is to challenge each member to practice their craft, and thus hone their skills. The group’s most recent challenge was to write a letter, a dairy entry, etcetera about a controversial subject as someone other than themselves.  

Note to my readers –

One of my dearest friends belongs to a creative writers group. The purpose of this group is to challenge each member to practice their craft, and thus hone their skills. The group’s most recent challenge was to write a letter, a dairy entry, etcetera about a controversial subject as someone other than themselves.  

When she read the challenge, she told me she knew straightaway what she was going to write about: homelessness.

She, herself, has never experienced homelessness. Although she knew that homelessness existed, I am, in fact, the first person she’d ever met who had been homeless at some point in their lives – and from things I’ve shared with her and questions she has asked of me, has become aware of how tragic a social condition homelessness in our nation truly is.

Before submitting her writing to the group, she allowed me an advanced read of her work. I was moved to tears as I read what she had written. She has kindly given me permission to post it here in its entirety.

P.S. – S.R. Thank you for your gift of friendship. ~ m ~

"Letter To The Editor"
by S.R.

Dear Mr. Editor,

I’m writing this to you on the library computer, since it’s the only way I know to get in touch with the lady in the red shirt and I don’t have a computer of my own.

Hello, Ma’am,

Do you know what the hardest part of being homeless is? Having people like you walk right by me as if I’m not even there, or worse yet, look right through me. I know you were aware of me, though. You moved out to the edge of the sidewalk and wrinkled up your nose as if you smelled something bad. But you couldn’t smell me. I was able to get a shower yesterday, and the clothes I had on were clean. I’ll bet in your wildest dreams you wouldn’t think that some of us do our best to stay clean.

I watched you as you walked on down the sidewalk in your red shirt, khaki shorts, perfect hair and nails, cute sandals and even tan. You didn’t look hungry. Or thirsty. I liked your sandals. Very cute. They wouldn’t be practical for me, though, since I’m on my feet all the time. I have a pair of Reeboks I got at a garage sale a couple weeks ago. Barely worn! And only one size too big! Of course, you don’t have to worry about the comfort of your shoes. I saw you get into your black BMW.

I hope, as you drive home to your five bedroom house and eat your supper (as much food as you want!) with your family all around you, that you’ll count your blessings. I’m lucky tonight myself. I got to the shelter in time today to get a bed for the night. I’ll actually get some sleep. If I had to stay on the street, I’d have to stay awake. It isn’t wise for a woman to doze off out in the open. I used to hang with Nedda. We’d take turns watching while the other slept, but she managed to scrape together enough for a bus ticket back to Colorado. I can’t go back home. My daughter is here.

Yes. I have a daughter! The cutest little blond thing you’ve ever seen. She and I, we’re lucky. She’s in foster care. I get to see her every other weekend. She’s three now. The people she stays with are taking very good care of her. I know you have no idea how many children are homeless right along with their parents. It’s heartbreaking. I miss my baby, but I’m very thankful that she has a warm bed and clothes and food. I see whole families sleeping in their cars, showing up at soup kitchens and shelters. There are quite a few more of them now than there were just a year ago. That reminds me, I have to get a "new" blanket. I gave mine to an eight year old who was shivering in his thin jacket the other night. His Mama cried and hugged me. I cried too, and told her I had a little girl.

Really, it’s because of my daughter that I’m homeless. As soon as my boyfriend found out I was pregnant, he demanded that I get an abortion. We had a terrible fight about it, but I thought I didn’t want to lose him, so I actually went to the clinic. There were people like you there, marching around with signs, shouting at women going in, and throwing things at them. I couldn’t bring myself to approach the doors. I decided to keep my baby. Of course, that meant I lost my boyfriend. He would have kicked me out of the apartment, but the lease was in my name so he had to leave. The problem was, after that I couldn’t pay my bills. I had complications with my pregnancy and I wasn’t able to work, so I lost the apartment anyway. I was lucky enough to stay in a shelter until my daughter was born, but they took her and put her directly into foster care. They tried to talk me into letting her be adopted, but I know I’m going to make a life for us someday!

You’re probably wondering why I didn’t go "home." My Mom died of cancer five years ago and my Dad went to Florida and got married again. His wife doesn’t like me and wouldn’t let us come stay with them. He sends me money sometimes, but he’s terrified she’ll find out. So see, I can’t count on them. Besides, I’m going to find my baby’s daddy and make him pay child support! The problem is, none of our friends know where he went, or if they know, they’re not telling me. I think if he saw her, he’d fall in love with her. Then maybe he’d remember that he loves me and we could be a family.

You probably wonder why I don’t get a job. It’s not that easy. I do apply, but nothing ever seems to come of it. If you don’t have a permanent address, employers are very reluctant to hire you. Mostly because they think you’ll be unreliable. You won’t show up every day or you’ll even just disappear one day. No matter how directly you look them in the eye or how earnestly you assure them you’ll be at work on time every day, that indeed a job is just what you need to get you well on the road to getting your life back, they don’t want to take a chance. And they also think that, being homeless, I must have a drug or drinking problem. Why else would I be homeless? I don’t do drugs. Or drink, either. For one thing, I can’t afford it! And for another, if I got drunk, I’d be far too vulnerable.

Another misconception is that homeless women are pseudo hookers. It’s assumed that when we get desperate enough, we’ll sell our bodies. A man in the HR department of one company I applied to told me he’d give me work if I’d give him a blow job "on demand." Does that shock you? You probably don’t want to know the evil things that happen to homeless women. It would upset your safe, middle class sensibilities.

Why am I writing this to you? Because I want you to think. Tonight I want you to walk to your closest and count how many pairs of shoes you have. I want you to walk through your house, your kitchen, your living room, your family room, your sun porch, your three bathrooms, your five bedrooms… when you’re in the bedrooms, stop by each of your children’s beds and kiss them on the cheek and thank God that you are all safe and warm under the same roof. Go look in your garage at your shiny black BMW and your husband’s red pickup and be grateful you don’t have to walk miles every day just to get something to eat or stand for hours in a visible spot with a sign hoping people will have enough kindness in their hearts to give you their spare change.

Don’t feel sorry for me. I just ask that tomorrow when you walk past me that you look me in the eye. Smile at me. Ask me if you can buy me a bottle of water. I don’t even want money from you. I just want you to see me as a person. That’s all.

Have a good day.

  1. Sympathetic says:

    Deep, meaningful, sad & happy.
    Your friend… has linked to here on her site. It’s why I visited.
    I’m stuck for words to write. Thankful I can breathe, I can read and for this message.

  2. AnAmerican says:

    Touching and thought provoking. Thanks to both you and your friend for sharing .

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