From 2008-09, I worked as an AmeriCorps (basically domestic PeaceCorps) member in Boston's homeless shelter system through the amazing Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. To just say the experience was meaningful would do it no justice and to properly explain its meaning would probably take more time than you are willing to spare, so I won't do either. But while working at St. Francis House, a day shelter for homeless adults located in the heart of downtown Boston, I developed a friendship with an individual familiar with the shelter system who, speaking from his own experience, opened my eyes to a unique perspective of what it really means to be homeless in America.
In addition to being a talented writer and a great guy, Bob now also holds the distinction of authoring YP's first guest post. It's been condensed, but I know you'll still enjoy:
The Clubhouse by Robert L. Karash
(Excerpted from Spare Change News, Cambridge MA, issue of May 7, 2010. Full article can be found here.)
In some towns people who are experiencing homelessness have to wander around during the day until they are allowed back into a homeless shelter to get their bed to sleep for the night. In other places, so-called day centers for the homeless exist to provide services and to simply be a place to go during what are often long days of waiting. People in situations of homelessness frequently consider it a huge blessing to have a daytime shelter or "clubhouse." But interestingly enough, not only the presently homeless spend time in these. Others—including the formerly homeless—may also come.
Cities which have these daytime clubhouses are very lucky indeed to provide for their less fortunate and not force them to be purposeless and hungry daytime nomads. In fact, everyone comes out winning.
When a person spends a significant period of time being homeless, especially in a community with other homeless people, and then obtains permanent housing, sometimes a puzzling thing happens. This person doesn't break his ties with the homeless community despite now being in possession of his own apartment, home and new life.
It's been written that very few if any "outside" people realize how very tight-knit the sense of community within a homeless population can be.
Exiting this community to live in an apartment or house might be difficult. For many, there is no outside substitute since they might be afraid, emotionally distressed, estranged from former friends and family, or alienated by their new surroundings.
So where do they go? They return to the safe place, the place where they know they can say they belong—the clubhouse.
So housed, formerly homeless people return to the clubhouse for a variety of reasons, including not having much money. But most will say they want to check in with their old friends. They simply don't want to feel isolated in their new apartment.
Transition periods are never easy. For a while, the newly housed may have to keep one foot in the clubhouse and one foot in their new abode until things settle. This goes hand-in-hand with another factor, namely, the fear of losing one's new apartment. The only way to cope with this restless anxiety is to visit the clubhouse.
With proper support, people can manage the transition from homelessness or temporary housing to permanent housing successfully. Few can travel this challenging journey alone and navigate it well.
The daytime shelter, or clubhouse, is an important place for many people. For many, it represents their real home until they get settled in a new permanent housing situation. Even after making this transition, the clubhouse can remain a place of solace, security and belonging for the indeterminable time it takes to switch internal emotional gears from being homeless to being housed. Shaking off the traumatic experience of being homeless can take a long time.