5 Life Lessons of Being Homeless

5 Life Lessons of Being Homeless

5 Life Lessons of Being Homeless

At the age of 19, I found myself without any place I could really call "home," (for the background story, read this or this) and, fortunately for me, it was the scariest but most enlightening year of life lessons I have experienced to date. Today, I share a handful of lessons I learned while I was homeless.

1. The World Keeps Turning

It's true. Just because my world had crumbled around me, didn't mean the foundation of the rest of the world crumbled with it. I'm so glad it didn't! I found stable ground once I was taken in by a youth homeless shelter. The staff treated me with respect and their genuine acts of assistance reassured me that I could learn how to be independent and have stability.  Homelessness was not an end-all.

2. You Always Have Something

I realized that while I didn't have many material items to my name (a couple bags of stuff and an unregistered vehicle but no cash or credit to buy gas), I had a LOT of opportunity when I was homeless. Aside from the youth homeless shelter schedule for meals, chores, a couple classes or appointments, and curfew, I had nothing else to do. I knew no one in the shelter when I first arrived and had absolutely no money to go anywhere outside of where I could walk to, and even then, there wasn't much around. I got to know the others and quickly learned their barter system. I was able to provide transportation for some of the others, who would in turn supply the gas money, buy me lunch, and invite/pay for me to join in on activities. When I thought I had nothing, I actually had an abundance of something no one else there had; because of that, I received an abundance of experiences in exchange - even though I was homeless.

3. I Didn't Die or Become Less of a Person

Just because someone is homeless, specifically youth, doesn't mean that person is unlovable or undeserving. Quite the opposite! Those other shelter kids were among some of the most generous and lovable characters I ever had the pleasure of meeting. Some of these kids had run away from bad or abusive situations, some had medical conditions that their families didn't want to deal with anymore, some had previously had homes that rejected who they were or what they believed in, and some had resorted to joining gangs (Bloods). I was incredibly understood among the other homeless youth to a degree I never thought existed. Before I stepped foot in the shelter, all my childhood negative associations with what it meant to be homeless (dirty, lazy, insane, dangerous, creepy, unwanted) consumed me and I dreaded the thought of going into the homeless shelter. I thought I would not make it out alive. This was it! My life was over! Turns out, I didn't die or become less of human. I consciously woke up, I felt alive, and I received support I desperately needed.

4. Volunteers can be Awkward

There were several religious groups of volunteers that would come in to serve dinner, and at first, I couldn't bring myself to stand in the food line. It all felt so wrong, I had screwed up some how, and I was embarrassed. I literally made myself sick thinking about how ashamed I was to be living in a homeless shelter. As a younger teenager, I would volunteer to help prepare dinners and then serve them at churches that opened their doors to serve meals to the homeless.  I recalled when I would volunteer, and how I kept myself emotionally detached from those I was serving - I didn't want to feel their pain or get too close physically or emotionally. Homelessness was something I hoped I would never experience myself, yet there I was, relying on volunteer dinners. After missing several meals out of embarrassment and with my stomach growling fiercely from hunger, I mustered up the courage to get in line for dinner. I expected the volunteer ladies to scold me or tell me dinner was conditional on the count that I'd find a job tomorrow. None of them said a word to me. It was weird and awkward. At least I went to bed with a half-full belly the rest of the nights I stayed there, and for that, I was grateful.

5. Keep Moving

To stay in the homeless shelter for any significant length of time was unacceptable to me. It was my responsibility to hold myself accountable for the actions I needed to take to get to the next phase in the program. I took this 'go-go-go- and keep going 'til you get where you want to go' mentality and made it a sort of personal motto. I'm proud to say that I've had a house that I call home with my husband for several years, and I keep channeling that 'go-go-go' drive. This ambition allowed me to put myself through paralegal school, pay off all my debt, and now, I look for ways to explore more of the things that interest me.

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