Amanda is a bright young woman who graduated with a degree in International Affairs from Georgia Institute of Technology. She was a guest in our Day Center program and wanted to share her story and give others a glimpse into the life of homelessness.
"Alice came to a fork in the road.
‘Which road do I take’, she asked.
‘Where do you want to go’, responded the Cheshire Cat.
'I don't know’, Alice answered.
‘Then’, said the Cat, ‘it doesn't matter.’”
- Lewis Carrol, Alice In Wonderland
Life is all about goals. We're all headed somewhere. You're supposed to have a goal oriented plan in order to be successful. You came from somewhere; you're going somewhere. You are not allowed to stand still and just be.
When you find yourself homeless, however, life becomes a paradox. You have no choice. You must stand still. When you have little or no income, and absolutely no transportation, challenges are magnified and life is difficult. You have almost no control over your most basic experiences. Even obtaining simple necessities like meals, clothing and houses are out of your control. However society still has an expectation of you. That expectation is for you to continue to move forward or move on. You are expected to strive to get a job, any job. Then you are expected to get to that job. Once you have had it a short time, you are supposed to miraculously get your own apartment and a man.
These are society’s expectation for a woman who is homeless. You are always moving forward but where that path ultimately leads is given very little thought. What about a career or an education? What about your mental or physical health? What about friends and recreation? What about the healing that you need? And believe me, healing will be in order if one ends up homeless. A balanced and healthy life? We are moving but where are we going?
Homelessness can feel like running on a treadmill. You feel like you are moving forward but never getting anywhere. There is no path. When we neglect balance and healing in our lives, when we neglect ourselves in the pursuit of securing fast money and shelter, we are running in place.
The previous scenario is exactly what most of society expects of homeless women-- hurry up make some money and move on! Except it's not that simple. In order to truly move forward, every one of us has personal, emotional and sometimes physical wounds that need to heal. That is where Pathways of Birmingham comes in.
“There are no wrong turnings. Only paths we had not known we were meant to walk.”
- Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana
Paths go both ways. When non-homeless people find out that I am homeless, the first question is always, "How did you get here?" or "How did you become homeless?". My answer is always the same, "A combination of bad circumstances such as a bad divorce and alcoholism brought me to this situation." Because of societal expectations, most people only hear alcohol and nod while walking away. The staff at Pathways not only take the time to hear everything that I am saying but they also hear a lot of what I am not saying aloud.
At Pathways I can find food and shelter. But I can also find help. They assist with physician referrals, clothing closets and many other resources. Every Friday a licensed therapist takes individual appointments and helps the women here. Throughout the month various classes from financial literacy to computer competency are offered to help us sharpen our minds, and activities such as art therapy and chair yoga help us find balance in our chaotic lives.
For me personally, the Friday therapy is helping heal old wounds and change behavior that contributed to my homelessness. Each session helps me understand how I think and behave and how to begin changing if I need to. Although I have a college degree, it isn't serving me well and the staff at Pathways is working to help me go back to school and train for a new career.
Without the love and support I receive and feel from Pathways, I know that I would still be floundering. I would be trying desperately to move forward without clear paths for me to follow. I had everything until I had nothing. I never dreamed that the path I am currently on is the one I would walk. Yet, I don't think I strayed. I just didn't know that this was the pathway I was meant to take.