I am walking home from school, down the hill. Back then I had songs in my head as I walked down the road’s shoulder. It was uphill to school and downhill back home, past the houses I would see every day. It was then I had Bye Bye Love by The Cars in my head. I didn’t really understand who The Cars were. All I knew was all of a sudden I liked an awful lot of their songs. I would hear them on the radio, and I think even one of my friends had the album, or their older brother. The music in my head meant that I didn’t have the boredom of walking the same route, the sounds of outside which were the same, faint seagulls or crows, or the passing of cars at the bottom of the hill.
I didn’t really have any records of my own then. Maybe one or two. It wasn’t until later on. When I had moved out after my teens that I started to build up my collection. Then they ended up in boxes or given away. I can’t even really remember what my last turntable was like.
In those days I thought about school. About what was on TV. Being able to watch TV without it being taken over by my Dad. Just the escape between school and supper time. Going to friend’s houses after school. Living through the monotony of having to set the table before dinner. Or dry the dishes afterwards. I didn’t like the feeling of the tea towel in my hands. I preferred washing them, but I didn’t always get to do that.
Since then, when I was ten and walking home from school with Bye Bye Love in my head, I had always had a home until several months ago. Until one day when I hadn’t eaten yet and I was sitting on the couch in the shelter lobby. This would be a lot easier if I was younger, I thought. So many expectations you have as you grow up. It is around 1pm. I’ve got what I think is a passable bag for what you are allowed to bring in there, sizewise. I think I am shell shocked. I know if I don’t eat something soon I’m not going to be able to think. I see people going into the big glass cafeteria room to eat lunch for free. Nobody asks if I am hungry though. I’ve been separated from my cat. He had been picked up by a friend that morning to stay with them because they don’t take animals in this shelter.
I’ve still got the reminders of a normal functioning life – an iPhone, a Macbook I had used for retraining, my Fossil bag I had bought in New York two years ago. But I was panicking because I had just been told by the front desk staff that I didn’t have a place to stay that night. The first thing I did, when I didn’t know what to do, was text the friend who was keeping the rest of my belongings, a bag and a suitcase.
“I’m in trouble.”
“How can I help?”
“I told the shelter I wasn’t coming in ’til today.”
“You’re in though, yes?”
“No. They’ve accused me of missing curfew because I wasn’t here last night.”
“Huh? Doesn’t she get that you weren’t planning to stay there until today?”
“I lost my place and I have to try to get in later. I haven’t eaten. I’ve got a splitting headache.”
“That’s completely wrong and unfair. Ask to speak to the house manager. It’s a misunderstanding. Explain to them calmly.”
I approached the desk and asked to speak to the house manager. They looked at me with blank faces and someone picked up a phone. A couple of minutes later a young woman approached me. She had entered from another office door in the complex. She said that she couldn’t reach the housing manager. She must be busy. They asked if I could come back to speak to her at two o’ clock. I said that I was hungry so I was going to get something to eat and then come back.
“I’m going to White Spot,” I texted back my friend.
“You did nothing wrong. Honest to God. This city. Aaargh.”
“I can talk to the house manager at 2pm but the the word is she doesn’t change rules.
“Don’t they have a rule about honouring commitments?”
“The girl I talked to at the desk said I told her I agreed to be in by 11pm.”
“Last night or today?”
“Well, I told her I wasn’t staying here until today. I said it right to her face. She never said, we need to be doing this tomorrow, instead. I spoke to my housing advocate. She said after they do the intake, I have to stay there that night. I didn’t realize.”
“Total bullshit. Still not your fault. Nobody explained. How on earth were you to know that?”
“They expect people to know the system I guess.”
“Explain all this to the house manager. Unfair of them to assume you are a street hardened veteran. “
“The attitude here seems to be if you are homeless you are deficient in some capacity, and that you aren’t intelligent adults.”
I had gone to the Downtown Eastside a couple of days before. There was a women’s center that helped with homelessness. I had gone there the day before and spoken to an advocate. She asked me why I was without housing and I told her. I said I had retrained and couldn’t find work so I had to move out of my apartment I had lived in for seven years. I had to go on welfare, and after putting up with a few months of disinterest in the amount of rent I could pay, the forms that had to be signed, being threatened to get out of one place when I still had laundry in the washer, I had gone from one ineffective situation to another. Eventually I moved to a hotel. The night before was the last night there.
So I said I had no place to stay the next night. The housing advocate said I had been through a lot and began to look up places where I could stay. Uh, oh. I was hoping she would say my story sounded not so bad. We redid my housing application. I told her that I had some place for tonight, I was staying at the hotel. She called a couple of the shelters anyway, then gave me instructions on contacting one last one.
I walked up to the White Spot up the street, with my bags. I thought of the last time I had been in a White Spot, when I was not in stable housing, but at least I was with friends at the time.
Last night I had sat in the intake room. Thought about when I used to do intakes when I worked for a non-profit. The woman asked what my interests and goals were. Why bother, I thought. You can tell. When people aren’t thinking about what a nice person you are, how interesting you are, the degree you have. I should have said I shouldn’t be here till tomorrow, and left. I just wasn’t sure how things worked.
I had that one last night in a hotel before I had to check out, where I could feel like I had somewhere temporarily to go. Like I was normal, and I really had a home. I had told the hotel I was looking for work. That’s why I was staying there – so I was close to interviews.
I finished my burger and went back to the shelter. There was no housing manager around to talk to me. I don’t think she intended to speak to me in the first place. I was going to have to wait to see if there was a space, and there was nothing at the moment, so I had no where to go.
I texted my friend and told her.
‘Come back here,” she said. “We’ll figure something out.”
I left the shelter and hopped on the #20 feeling I had been given somewhat of a reprieve. Maybe I would have felt better walking but it was a long walk, with my bag. All those songs in my head from the old days. I think they had been scared away for a couple of hours. It seemed a long time until I would be in a place that was my own again, pulling vinyl out of its sleeve and picking the dust off the needle.