Christmas in the Homeless Shelter

I never thought my family would spend Christmas in a homeless shelter.  Specifically, we are in a transitional housing program for families, somewhere in the SF Bay Area.  How did I go from a high paying job with great perks to homeless?  How did I get our family into a wonderful program?  How will we get ourselves out of this mess?  Stay tuned, boys and girls.

If you have to be homeless and in a shelter, this is the right time of year.  We had two parties with Santa and wonderful gifts for all.  We received a turkey and all the trimmings, plus a hundred dollar Safeway card.  The food pantry in our building was overflowing with terrific food.  They had a winter coat drive and my family got nice, warm jackets.  This was the best Christmas, at least in terms of goodies, since I became disabled 3 years ago.  Our family was in pretty good spirits, despite the threat of losing our place to live when we reach the time limit for staying in the shelter.

The saddest part of Christmas was meeting a homeless Dad on Christmas eve.  He was staying in a hotel room with his two children and wife, who is sick.  He said that if he didn’t get enough money, they would be on the street Christmas day.  Judging by the way the man shivered with cold, I believed him.  His little boy was skateboarding around, carefree in his ignorance of the family’s impending nightmare.  I gave the man our program director’s card and told him about the program, also about hotel vouchers for families through CalWorks.  The problem was, all these offices wouldn’t be open until Friday and they were being put on the street Thursday.  It haunts me, not knowing whether that sweet little boy and his brother stayed safe and warm on Christmas.

One myth is that you can’t sign up for a shelter spot until you are out on the street.  This isn’t true.  If you have children, you should contact every charity in your area as soon as you think you might become homeless.  There are waiting lists for programs like mine.  We were lucky and were able to stay with a friend.   When we first became homeless, we didn’t know about the CalWorks hotel voucher program or family shelters.  Because my youngest is 18, we didn’t realize we qualified for CalWorks or for family shelter space.  My son is disabled (autism), so we were able to get benefits and a little apartment in the shelter.  I don’t think my son would be alive today if we hadn’t gotten into our building.  We were even able to keep his therapy dog, with a note from his therapist.

Despite our trials and tribulations, we had a lovely Christmas.  I am very grateful to be able to knit and crochet.  I saved my tools and yarn, so I was able to make gifts for everyone.  I crocheted stockings for all the kids in our building.  It took my mind off my own misery and made me feel like I am contributing. (The other women here want me to teach them, but we don’t have the hooks and needles necessary.  If anyone wants to make a tax deductible donation of size G crochet hooks and/or size 8 needles, please contact me.)  We watched comedy DVDs from the library and played holiday YouTube videos.  No matter what, we have each other, and that’s what makes Christmas, and every day, full of love and joy.