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From Imalay …

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My Shelter Experience

By Imalay Guzman

My story begins when I got pregnant, after I took a trip to Florida back in 2010. I was 18 and pregnant, with no education or income – let alone a home of my own. Reality hit me like a bag of bricks: I needed to get my life in order because now I had someone depending on me.

As soon I returned to Worcester, I gave myself life goals. I needed to finish my education and also work on a stable home for my unborn child. It was a lot of work, but I was committed to it. I achieved – to receive my GED certificate. I was so determined that it only took me three days to do so.

While I worked on myself, I stayed with my mom. Our relationship was always off and on – I never knew were we stood. Which helped me make the decision to go into a homeless shelter. My mother isn’t one of those moms who would allow me to live with her while I have my own children. Initially, it was a push I needed.

I moved out of my mother’s house and into a shelter. I was told a shelter could help me get some type of subsidized rent or a voucher that could help me pay my rent once I found an apartment. At this time I was unemployed and pregnant; this was my only option. It was a very tough decision to make, but I knew that it had to be done.

The shelter situation isn’t the easiest situation to be in. To go into a shelter you have to prove that you’re truly homeless, and once you do that they place you wherever they have open beds. My first placement was in a hotel in Danvers in the middle of nowhere. I mean it was decent hotel but, to be able to access a real grocery store, you would have to have a car, and at the time I did not even have my driver’s license!

I remember feeling like I was incarcerated. I looked out my hotel window and all I saw was the highway.

Once you reside in a shelter, there are rules you have to follow. And they make sure you know NOT to get too comfortable, mainly because they move people around often.

For me, the shelter setting wasn’t that different from living in a juvenile program. Everyone had to clean up after themselves. There was curfew and you could only sleep out twice a month for two days at a time.

If you had kids living with you – which mostly everyone did – you had to make sure your kids were always attended to. And if you left and decided to leave your child with another person, that was documented.

My second placement was in Boston. I had to share an apartment with four other women. Each of us had to keep our food labeled and room locked.

It was horrible because not everyone is like me. I had to live with females who were dirty and, in addition, had bad parenting skills. I was in a situation where the mother would leave her child unattended in a bath tub! I was in situations where the mother would be high on heroin, nodding off while she was behind the wheel. The worst part about most shelters was that good people would donate things to be given to the families in need. Most times families wouldn’t receive the donations because staff would take the donations for themselves!

There would be false reports made by staff just because they didn’t fancy certain families that came in! Yes, people! I’m talking about favoritism!

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve met staff who wanted to help all of us. I’ve had close relationships with some staff – enough for them to tell me what would be said in staff meetings. I saw it for myself that most shelter staff are there for their paychecks and nothing more. Their behavior towards us was like they were better than us because they life was together. I felt judge and degraded while I was living in a shelter. If anyone who works in a shelter isn’t ambitious to help those who they work for, then they shouldn’t be in that field.

We all had requirements: we had to have self-sufficient hours, meaning that while you were in shelter, you had to be doing something productive with your life. If you were in school, you needed proof of that – or even a job. We always had meetings because some people in the shelter lacked knowledge of basic life skills. We had meetings regarding saving money or fixing your credit. We even had meetings on personal hygiene because common sense isn’t always common.

I met some very important people who are still active in my life, thanks to the shelter. Although it was a tough, traumatic experience, I matured because of it. It showed me that if you are persistent, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.

Nothing lasts forever, and I learned this because of my shelter experience. I lived in a shelter setting for three years, I was moved around a lot, but the point is I overcame what I thought was impossible.

And it taught me anything is possible.

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