The Change I Can Use…

[This soliloquy presents the reflections after experiencing homelessness for a day in New York. I spent a day in two shelter homes in Manhattan as a needy homeless/helpless person. Acumen Fund Fellows go through such empathy exercises to develop an understanding of life at BoP]

This is another very usual day of my life – starting with the hassle of catching the bus to this building in heart of this modern city; I doubt if any of my ex-bosses can afford to live in this neighborhood. I approach the kitchen where the chefs are ready with my breakfast.

I do not need to check the board for my business today. It has been pretty much fixed for last many months. I have already checked with appointed case worker and she is still waiting for the government agencies to get back to us. So I’ll head straight to group discussion. The anemic participants are signing the meeting attendance sheet and I think I would do the same. We don’t have any topics to discuss and I didn’t have very peaceful nap last night so I better catch up on that. The coordinator is trying to create some conversation but who cares. It is my constitutional right to be here and no one can remove me.

Meeting is over. I can go to lounge where the other associates are sitting in plastic chairs. It’s a bit hot and suffocating here but this is all we can offer with limited financial resources. Most of these associates are between 20 and 50 years of age. Majority of them are males of African ethnicity. Everyone has a big bag in his lap or under the chair. They are all facing a big TV screen which is completely blank. The themes of the day are lethargy and silence.

Let’s go for the mid-day meal– white rice with beef, a cold drink and some fresh fruits; not bad for a free lunch. And now it is siesta time.

There will be two more meetings in evening. And I’ll also need to call the agencies for any available economic opportunities. Neither of the two gives me any new thing. So I wait for dinner. And the day would end with me being transported back to some church for respite bed.

I can not complain as I do get three square meals a day and a bed to sleep in at night, most of the times. I am provided with basic medical support through a resident nurse and necessary insurance through Medicaid. There is a case officer dutifully pursuing my housing case under section 8. And the experts visit counsel me on resume writing, job searching and social skills development. This is all that the destitute of the developing countries can not even dream of.

So you think I am being thankless? I have to live with people with mental incapability, and those with criminal records, and those who can not work. I’m not comfortable with the drowsy atmosphere. The endless wait to get response from government agencies is driving me crazy. The bland routine is plaguing my mind. I spend the day filling out attendance sheets and complying with rules to get a bed at night. I do not have a sense of belonging, or any idea of my destiny. The process of taking me out of this misery is costing me my enthusiasm and dignity.

I have the potential to join back the society as an active and dignified member; all I need is you to mentor and invest in me, unconventionally. Help me build a vision; because visions give us direction towards the destiny. Give me some hope so I’d enthusiastically pursue my destiny. And do something to break this inertia; help me gain the momentum so that every step would bring me closer to the destiny. And that’s all I need because dignity is freedom to choose destiny and fair access to means of reaching it.