I’ve spent the past week like I do most weeks advocating for human rights especially those that involve the homeless.
I was homeless here in Baltimore for nine years on and off. It was an experience that no one wishes to go through.
Today was different for me. I was almost an outsider looking in. I walked into the Harry & Jeanette Housing Resource Center – Baltimore’s biggest shelter – on a mission to bring back a story.
Meet Karen Aluisy.
I’ve known Karen for about a year give or take. She was kind enough to give us a glimpse into her world.
“I am 57 years old,” she told me. “I have been homeless for three years now. I suffer from lupus and a gall bladder disease. HRC is my current home. I don’t like having to get up at 4 a.n. to put my belongings into a disabled storage. However, I can’t physically carry everything I own from place to place.”
When I asked what caused her to be homeless, Karen replied, “Divorce then domestic violence.”
That is the same reason I was homeless for the first time.
Karen came to Baltimore about twelve years ago from Florida. She used to work in a rescue mission and now she needs to be rescued. The lack of healthy food available to homeless people in soup kitchens is a problem for many including Karen.
“At times I go from noon until the following day before I can eat again,” she said. “I’m vegetarian and HRC doesn’t have vegan options always. I have to be in line at 11:45 am to get a bed for the night. I can’t leave and go anywhere else without giving up my bed. It’s hard to go to doctors’ appointments on this schedule.”
Karen seemed optimistic because she has a new caseworker working on finding her permanent housing. She offers this advice to those she meets who are homeless, “Go to the HRC. Daily Bread is across the street. You can eat there. Homelessness is shocking at first. You need to take time to adjust to new routines, tons of people with tons of different personalities and issues. Take your time. Don’t make any big decisions until you get the routines down.”
I felt bad as the interview concluded because she was staying there and I was going home. Everyone deserves a home.
Meet Dwayne “Tony” Simmons.
He is currently homeless and has been for about fifteen months. Tony served our country as a Marine. Now he is a full-time advocate for the homeless of Baltimore. Tony stays in a parking garage on Davis Street also known now as the men’s overflow shelter. He refers to the other men who stay there as “his guys.”
I guarantee he probably knows more names of the 100-plus staying there than the staff. He also works with me on Word on The Street. His first article is in our latest issue. That is not what he asked me to write about. He told me about the despicable conditions of overflow.
“It’s hard enough being homeless,” he said. “We don’t have sheets or towels at overflow. Breakfast is a cup of tea and half a donut. The bed bugs attack every night. We sleep on cots.”
“Overflow doesn’t even exist, according to the city,” he said. “It’s not on any shelter list. You can’t find it on the Internet. Yet, you have to go to the HRC to get your ticket to get a cot? If an ambulance is dispatched, it goes to the Davis Street garage. I am on the Resident Council at HRC, but can’t make any progress on overflow’s terrible conditions. I go there every night and stay with my guys. I could give you a tour of my home that doesn’t exist.”
I wonder if the spot Tony and his guys are in at the overflow tonight was ever on a list. I lived there too about five years ago. It was the old city shelter nicknamed Code Blue by the residents. I was there for about eight months, sleeping on a floor with 200 other women on cots and mats. Luckily for me, now with hard work and determination, I have had my own apartment for three years. Today, I feel extra blessed and super privileged for the simple fact that I have a home. Many of my friends do not.