Last week Helping Hand House had a guest most of the week. She was a wonderful guest; an older woman (mid 50’s I’m guessing), sweet, polite and soft-spoken to everyone, dressed to the nine’s in a tan dress, leggings, heels, trench coat and fur hat (remember it was mid 80’s all week!). She carried a satchel with her huge and well worn bible on top and plastic garbage bag with a few select belongings. Her name was Ms. Irons, and she was homeless.
She had been recently released from the hospital where she had been treated for a heart condition, and she had been evicted for lack of payment and had no home to go to. After making her way up the Meridian hill, staying in Shari’s restaurant until they made her leave and sleeping beside the Top Food and Fed Ex building.
She was told by someone we may be able to help. Unfortunately with no children, she did not meet our mission requirements (we only serve families in our housing) and we had no vacancies to be flexible with. We hosted her in our waiting area all day, and with our help and advice on providers in Pierce County, use our phone to try and call other shelters she might be able to stay in. Often she fell asleep for an hour or more and we all could tell she was exhausted.
At the end of the first day, we had a staff huddle and two staff volunteered to drive her into Tacoma to try and find a shelter. When they took her however, they were told that the shelter was full and rather than stay in downtown Tacoma (where she felt really unsafe) she asked if they would bring her back to Puyallup. Our staff did, and she spent the night somewhere outside that night.
The next day she showed up in the morning and we let her stay in our office all day again trying to find shelter and sleeping quietly, sitting up and hardly moving, on the couch. Contact was made with her dad in Atlanta who said if she couldn’t find a place he had called Best Western and confirmed they had a room available for her there and he would pay for it. At the end of the day because there were no other shelters available my staff dropped her off at the Best Western. The next day she arrived at our door again – her dad had confirmed a vacancy, but not made a reservation and the hotel was full when she was dropped off. She had spent another night outside. Her nice outfit was getting pretty wrinkled and worn looking, but she just kept being sweet so we kept trying to help. One staff person was about to take her home with her out of desperation – despite the conversation we had about boundaries and being safe, that was an idea and we were getting desperate for options to help.
Finally we helped her secure a room at another hotel for the night, and I have not seen her since. In three days with her (and all her belongings), I never saw or smelled any alcohol or illegal substance, or signs of mental illness (I’m not a mental health pro). She was drained, exhausted and often hopeless in the simple sense she just had one desire – to find a place to sleep tonight and feel safe. She confided in me on the second day she was ready to go home to the Lord rather than to live like this, and she had told Him so – but He was keeping her heart going (a reference as to why she was in the hospital) so she knew she needed to try and keep living. I hope and pray that she is OK (I know she had a room that night, we made sure of it).
This was a heart wrenching reminder of how many gaps there are in the system. Alone and without transportation or a phone, it’s really hard to find a place to stay. There are a lot more options for single persons than families in Pierce County, so as hard as it was to not be able to help more, it’s so clear why we serve the families that are in this same position. Children have no choice and it’s devastating on your mental and physical psyche to keep surviving in that emergency status that is homelessness.
Thanks for your continued support of the work we’re doing with families here in Pierce County!