By Te-Erika Patterson
(Originally published in The Westside Gazette)
We see them but we try to pretend that we don’t. Their dirt stained faces, the look of bewilderment and solace haunt us during our most troubling moments of financial insecurity. Our biggest fear is that we could end up like them, sitting on the sidewalk, clutching a bottle of cheap liquor, begging for change.
Their world is a mystery to us yet we feel pity and disdain for their existence. We are angered by their life choices yet their presence is a reminder that we are better off, but are we?
On April 11, 2011 I set out to teach one of life’s greatest lessons, the ability to overcome failure. I gave away everything that I owned, including up my apartment and became homeless on purpose to teach, through my women’s empowerment website, how to overcome failure so that women would never fear it again. I called this endeavor The Rebuild Your Life Project.
The fear of failure stalls us in our ability to make the changes we need to progress. Our life transitions include loss and many women are not adequately equipped to face such losses with determination. My desire was to face my own biggest fear of homelessness and catalogue my journey in and out of homelessness in video and in writing. I planned to teach the mental strategies women need to overcome any failure while I was going through the process. I recorded my journey in videos that I posted daily on my YouTube channel allowing women to follow along during the four months that I lived as a homeless individual in Hollywood, Florida.
I found a shelter to live in, the most notorious homeless shelter in Florida, The COSAC Homeless Shelter. The shelter, located at 1203 N. Federal Highway, occupies the property that used to be known as The Hollywood Motel. Its residents are not those who need a quick escape from the streets due to rough economic times. At the COSAC shelter, I interacted daily with the perpetually homeless and others who temporarily lost their way. The doors swung open multiple times a day introducing a new character with a new story, providing me with a wide variety of experiences and mentalities to draw from. What I learned about the homeless lifestyle completely shifted my view of the homeless and of myself.
If you ended up homeless could you survive it? I believe you can.
Why Do People Become Homeless?
There are quite a few motivating factors behind people who end up in a homeless situation. From my time at the COSAC shelter, I noticed that the most common motivating factor mirrors our societal assumption of drug addiction yet there were those who wound up homeless because they were running away from abusive situations. Others were disabled and had no one to care for them. I met many elderly individuals whose social security checks or disability checks were not enough to maintain their own households. There were those ex offenders who could not obtain and sustain employment due to their criminal records. There were also those who simply aged out of employment as their bodies deteriorated and had no family to care for them. I even met the mentally ill homeless individuals whose families had given up on caring for them. My biggest surprise came when I learned that there were some people who were physically unable to work and had been so miserable and horrible to people during their lives that everyone they knew refused to care for them.
But what about the homeless individuals that we see on the street corners, the ones sleeping under the expressways and those foraging through garbage bins for food, why haven’t they found refuge in shelters like The COSAC? The answer is simple; they don’t want to.
There are many shelters that aid the homeless within the Miami-Dade and Broward county areas. Most of these institutions like the Broward Outreach Center (BOC), located at 2056 Scott Street in Hollywood, Florida, require a strict regime of drug abuse classes, drug testing and compliance to benefit from their program. Programs like the BOC aim to rehabilitate the homeless individual, enabling them to rebuild their lives once they have completed their program. To enter into a program like the BOC on Scott Street requires a referral from another agency like The Coalition to End Homelessness located in Fort Lauderdale. Many claim that this selective process is similar to winning a golden ticket and many homeless individuals do not have the resources or the patience to seek help.
Those homeless individuals who do end up living out on the streets are there because they choose to. Why would someone choose to live the homeless lifestyle?
Over the next four weeks I will explore and expose the truth behind the benefits and pitfalls of homelessness as I present the culmination of my time as a homeless individual in my series, Homeless On Purpose.
NEXT- Part 2- The Benefits of Homelessness
To learn more about The Rebuild Your Life Project please visit The Rebuild Your Life Project.org