The Night I Finally Called for Help
The night I finally called a shelter for help certainly stands out as a key memory during the homeless period. I was parked under a highway overpass not far from the mean streets of a Western Mass. town. I could hear gunshots in the distance from the other side of the town line. This is where I chose to sleep the night away? Well, it seemed safer than the parking lot of the truck stop where I was parked earlier in the evening. I had finally reached the point where I was ready to call a shelter to see if there was space for the night and if I would be welcome. This was new territory for me, reaching out for help in my “home town.” Maybe I shouldn’t call it a home town, since it never had the feel of home to me.
Anyway, I exited my rather beat up sedan and walked across the street to a convenience store, picked up a pay phone and dialed information. I remember asking the operator for the numbers of shelters in the area. She came up with a few. I picked one, on a street I was familiar with, Worthington Street, and dialed.
The man who answered the phone seemed businesslike, but not unfriendly. He said there still might be a bed available if I hurried and got there before the deadline for the night. I remember saying that I didn’t have a place to stay and not enough money for a motel. He didn’t seem surprised, but I was—that I had gotten myself into this predicament.
The strange thing is that in all of Springfield I could not think of one friend I could call for help, after nearly fifteen years of living in this town. This was prior to treatment for mental illness and after burning countless bridges in New England and jumping from job to job and place to place and relationship to relationship. I could make excuses for not having good friends, blame it on others, but why even bother. Of course, no one else was perfect.
This situation tells you something about my social skills back them, my ability to even make a good friend. I was clearly a “stranger in a strange land.”
So I had reached the point of no return, when I had to enter the shelter that I probably had passed countless times over the years. It was scary for me to go there, too—fear of the unknown. I drove into their parking lot in darkness and joined a line of men waiting at the door. Would there be a bed—actually an army cot—available when I reached the front of the line? I did not know, and had no plan in mind if the last bed was taken. No plan. Very little money. No sense of a meaningful future in that moment. I think that’s the first time I grasped the fact that I was now truly homeless.