I’m dressed, fed and coffee’d up, ready to get in my wagen and drive the 10 minutes to my “job”. A job with a dignified wage, including vacation, sick days and holidays. I pull up in my regular shaded spot under a lovely large tree and sneak in the back door, through the courtyard, over toys, balls and swimming pools. On the way; making eye contact with people I’ll never invite to my lovely comfortable home. I’ve been told very definitely that I cannot do that! My family knows me!
Opening the back door to the studio I quickly jump down the three steps to disarm the alarm system that has yet to deter four break-ins. I turn on the AC and haul my bag to the office, on the way noticing the women have already begun to assemble outside the front door. All shapes and sizes, colors and cultures, in all forms of physical, emotional and mental states. As I put together the makings of 40 cups of coffee, I breathe deeply and prepare my heart and mind for the personalities and characters that make up my days and who have been lovingly instrumental in the remaking of me and the awakening of a passion to love differently and unconditionally, learning not to take the pain to myself and not to give more than they are willing to give for themselves.
Just outside the door “Jane” sits along with 8 to 10 others who have spent the night at Talbot House, the homeless shelter around the corner from the studio. They’ve been woken very early, breakfasted and sent out to walk the streets, find a library or an acceptable park to sit in – or come to RePurpose Art Studio. The regulars bring the women who are new to the streets to find a safe place, a cup of coffee, conversation…or not!
“Jane” is a veteran. A woman in her fifties who cared for her elderly father until he moved into a nursing home. The house was sold and she ended up at Talbot House. That was well over two years ago. She has been in and out of the shelter after her 21 days were used up…sleeping on porches, behind dumpsters and in a blessed motel if and when a friend gets a monthly check and shares their space in a local motel. She has been a good friend; kind and consistent in character. She has finally gotten a case worker and when she is lucid and there’s no full moon, she answers questions and is helpful in her own recovery. Being able to access medications and getting to doctor appointments is vital and always dependent on bus schedules and accessibility of a bus pass. “Jane” has come across wall after wall, mostly of her own building, keeping her frustrated and some moments impatient, angry and inconsolable. Depression sets in and she disappears for a few days building stories in her head to spread intrigue for the neighborhood and excuse her own inconsistencies. Her husband died years ago and she hasn’t been able to make life work since. PTSD has set in and rears it’s head when she gets agitated or witnesses injustices among her community. “Jane” is a beautiful woman, capable of creating a sustainable home if only she had a safe affordable space to be.
Once in the studio the smell of coffee and the relief of a wave of cool air brings a visible recognition of peace. The studio has become a home to many women stuck in the cycle of homelessness. Stepping in the door, leaving the dank humidity and sweltering heat of Central Florida’s summer, they enter into a welcoming refuge…surrounding the women with upholstered spaces, clean pleasant smells, books, puzzles, a wide array of creative outlets and a kitchen. A place of silence or an opportunity for conversation and building relationships in this very unsettling life experience. No one chooses a life of homelessness…certainly, decisions we make lead us on our paths direction at each maker, each one life changing.
Since the original writing of this story “Jane” has been housed! She called me this morning with a new phone number, an address and a voice emanating a peace I haven’t heard from her in a very long time. A home is essential for healing.
“Names” were changed.