Written by Heather Resz, Case Manager with Homeless Family Services
From a Shelter to a Home
She walks in circles, talking to herself while she waits. Her meds help her manage day to day life. She has no phone, no address, no email, no Internet access, no transportation, no emergency contact, and no housing. She has a payee. Medicaid, food stamps and a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
With the aid of my spare glasses she can read the housing application we brought for her. They work well enough she can now read the documents I’m asking her to sign. But she can’t focus her mind to fill out forms, she says. We tag team the task. I ask her the questions and write her answers – name, date of birth, the names of her last employers and last landlords.
When we are done, I offer to take the application and use it to complete the online application for her. There’s a $25 fee–we’ll pay that, too. A few hours after we apply online, a message arrives from the property management company: Application approved; welcome home!
Because the client has no phone, I text the Bean’s Café Navigator at the Emergency Shelter the good news to pass along to our mutual client. The next day the client and I meet in the parking lot at the Sullivan arena and walk to her apartment together to look the place over and sign the lease.
A few days later it’s time to move in. The client helps me carry in the household items donated from the community and a food box from St. Francis House.
Move in Day
Inside her new home we unpack the box of donations together. Her eyes light up with delight as we pull each item from the box.
We unpack two used blankets, one new pillow, a used sleeping pad, one roll of paper towel, six rolls of toilet paper, four new hand towels, two new bath towels that and two new wash clothes that match her towels. A new set of dishes and silverware, a new set of sheets, three toothbrushes, toothpaste, one box of tissue, lotion, shampoo, a set of new kitchen towels with matching hot pads.
We’re both touched by the great care the community has taken in shopping for this moment. Unbidden, unseen and expecting nothing in return, our neighbors have supplied her with the comforts of a home–laundry soap, dryer sheets, deodorant, two bars of soap.
She loves to cook, she says, unpacking a new skillet and new saucepan, kitchen utensils, measuring cups and a hand mixer, too.
Captain Cook donated some furniture to Catholic Social Services. One table and two chairs now provide a place beneath the sunlight window for her to work on jigsaw puzzles. A puzzle was the only thing she said she really wanted for her new home, she said. Of course, when I looked in the donation room, some kind soul had already given us a new puzzle to share with her.
When I shop for my clients in the donation room, I pick out sheets and blankets that match. I carefully pick towels that match their washcloths. People from across my community have given these things from their pocketbooks and their hearts. It is my privilege to select from that trove of kindness household items that will help my clients move in and move on. I get to help unload the boxes of household goods and food into their new homes. I get to say “Welcome Home.” But I’m just a point person in this truly community wide effort.
My client helps other homeless women keep their hair trimmed. To the person who donated the hair dryer, thank you. It’s very welcome in its new home.
From having nothing, to having matching things. Things she wanted. Things she needed. The community gave love. We risk our lives to celebrate with a quick hug behind our face masks.
The Cadillac of Can Openers
On the shelf in the donation room, a used ceramic butter dish and lid catch my eye. It’s beautiful. Just beautiful. I don’t even know if she uses stick butter. But she’s human, and I’m betting her eyes like pretty things the same as mine.
She smiles wider, and her eyes twinkle brighter when she sees the dish. “You know me so well,” she says. “It seems like we’ve known each other forever.”
The food box is next. With each item we unpack, she beams at me with surprise. Jose at St. Francis House has managed to pack all of her favorite foods, she says. It’s the same food box hundreds of people pick up here every week. But to her, it’s more.
I help people who have lived on the street move into permanent housing. A food box without a can opener is as useful as a bicycle without wheels. Bravo to the brilliant mind who added a can opener to our donation room. I am grateful for your good heart and good thinking.
She plucks a favorite item from the gleaming trove of loot covering her counter. “This is the Cadillac of Can Openers,” she says.
Many thanks to the Anchorage community, without whose support there would be no Cadillac of Can Openers.