Contributed by: Fabian

When I was homeless the thought of me having an Identity was far-fetched. I would find myself walking around down town aimlessly looking into those big glass windows all the time. I was hoping that when I looked into those big windows I would see myself and that my reflection would not be gone. That is how I felt invisible. The feelings of being invisible when I was homelessness were worse than when I was in prison – when the only existence that I could go by was a number. But at least in prison I had a number and people looked at me.

Contributed by: Shannon

Most of us have seen, either in real life or in media portrayals, the stereotypical homeless man on the corner of Main Street, USA. You recognize him by his disheveled, dirty appearance, his unkempt hair and beard, his dingy clothing. There may be a impenitently unhidden brown-bagged bottle laying on the ground nearby as he holds a cleverly crafted (sometimes down-right poetic) cardboard sign asking for whatever you can spare. We have heard stories of men holding “Will work for food” signs, who upon being offered food in exchange for honest work, decline to actually do anything and instead ask for a handout. We have also seen hidden video exposes that uncover presumably homeless beggars profiting off the kindness of others before walking down the block, getting into their cars and driving home after a long day of hustling sympathetic passersby. Most of us know that not all homeless individuals fit these molds, but our subconscious minds cannot let go of those images, and negative public opinions are formed. Overcoming these stereotypes can feel like an insurmountable obstacle to the largest group of homeless persons, whom I refer to as the Invisible Homeless.

I live in Phoenix, AZ where the winters are mild and the weather feels more like spring than fall during the kick-off to the holiday season. It doesn’t snow here, and the annual rainfall is below what most states get in any given season. Except for the summer months when the temperatures are in the triple digits daily, the climate here is welcoming to those who enjoy being outdoors. It is also better for those who have no choice. If you were to walk around in the downtown area on any given day, you’ll most likely see more than a couple homeless individuals. Even if they are not sleeping on a bench, asking for money, or spotted drinking from a brown bag, they are easy to spot. They, in some way or another fit the stereotype. They have an obvious appearance of homelessness. Some people can’t help but look, or even stare, out of either pity, disapproval, disdain or disgust . Some try in vain to ignore their existence for all the same reasons. The fact remains, you see them. What about the ones you don’t see? The Invisible Homeless.

They are among you; waiting for a bus, going to work, looking for work, standing in line next to you, or maybe just taking a break from their harsh reality by walking around in the beautiful chaos of city life. You have even had casual conversations or exchanged niceties with them. But you still don’t see them. They are invisible. No, I haven’t gone mad. I don’t mean they are invisible by standard, literal definition of the word. I never said you can’t see them, I said you don’t. You can’t tell they are homeless by looking at them or talking with them. They are clean. They are sober. They are respectful. They are intelligent and educated. They are just like you, but fell on hard times. They are statistically a more accurate representation of homelessness than those who fit the homeless stereotype.

In difficult times, it is one’s dignity and self-esteem that help us to keep moving forward, to overcome obstacles that seem insurmountable. Hurtful words and lack of compassion add the burden of shame to an already heavy heart. The stigma of homelessness causes them to keep quiet about their plight. Negative public opinion toward homelessness alienates these people from the communities they helped build. They are not looking for a handout, but they need a hand up. They aren’t asking for the change in your pocket, they are asking for change in society.”

Contributed by: Anonymous

Homelessness is a social sickness. And greater society has a hard time understanding. It isn’t just about bucking up, getting a job and getting out. For most who find themselves in this situation, it is about starting completely over. From the inside out. There is an extreme amount of work that has to be done to heal ones soul. To re-learn how to love ones self. To believe they matter. Dignity has to be found and re-installed. Tools have to be learned. It is a long and hard process to get back up.

When I became homeless, I was lost, terrified, alone and broken. I was so emotionally damaged and had lost touch with the person I used to be. I was fighting an inner battle of self-worth and a homeless shelter was not proving to be a great environment to counteract the war that was going on in my head. About 5 days in to my stay, another female client I had met asked me to come with her to a ballroom dance class. I was stunned. A what? I couldn’t believe that there was a dance class at a homeless shelter. Being a classically trained ballet dancer for 13 years, I jumped at the chance. At first, I just thought it would be a nice way to spend an hour. But, I had no idea the value it was about to give me. The shift it would cause inside of me. It filled me with joy again. Something I had not felt in a long time. Here we were, this crazy mash of completely different backgrounds, in the depths of our despair. Together. Smiling, laughing, learning and coming ALIVE! I often say now, “The Rumba Saved My Life.”

Contributed by: Anonymous

The staff at the shelter seemed very cold and uncaring. They informed me that I would be allowed to sleep in the shelter, but that I would need to be out by 7 a.m. each morning and return by 4:30 p.m. The only exception was on Sundays, in which I was not allowed to leave the shelter at all. I asked, “Where do I go during the week?” The answer I got was, “We drop you off at a place downtown. You can go wherever you want. Be back at the pick up area by 4:00 or we will write you up. Three write-ups and you’re out.”

They asked for my name, birth date, whether I had any contagious diseases, and if I was a drug addict or alcoholic. After that, they told me my cot number and handed me a thin, stained sheet. I found my cot, put my sheet on it, said my prayers, and cried myself to sleep. Not long after, I was awakened by a loud voice and someone kicking my cot. “You have chores to do. Get them done or I will write you up.” I asked the worker what my chore was, and she replied, “Check the list” and walked away. The lady in the cot next to me showed me where the list was. Next to my cot number was the assigned chore. Toilets. I walked to the staff door, rang the doorbell, and waited a long while for someone to answer. I said, “My chore is toilets. Can I – ” She cut me off abruptly, “If you want to stay here, you have to do the assigned chore.” Then she shut the door in my face. I started to cry and rang the doorbell once more. A different lady answered. I said quickly, “I just wanted to ask if I can get the cleaner and brush to do the toilets.” She told me to ask another client to show me where the cleaners are kept, then added, “Your chores were supposed to be done an hour ago. Next time, we will write you up.” I had only been here less than two hours and already could have been written up twice. I remembered, “Three write ups, and you’re out.” After scrubbing the 12 toilets used by 140+ women that day, I resigned to my cot and cried myself to sleep for the second time that night.

The next day was Sunday, so we were on lockdown all day. I woke up earlier than most of the women there. I laid in my cot and thought to myself, “I won’t be here long. I am not like ‘homeless people’. I am normal. I am educated. I am not an addict. I am not a criminal.” As the other women woke up and started their day getting breakfast or hand-washing their clothes in the bathroom sinks, I lay in the main room and listened to the sounds of the large warehouse of women. Some were laughing. Some were yelling. Some were crying. I began to look around and realize the majority of them were just as “normal” as I was. I was not the exception. I was not in any greater position to get out of there than anyone else. I was instantly hopeless.”