An SVU episode sparked a thought. Well, really more like a memory.
I never talk about it but, between Dec.1994 – 1995, I was homeless for six months in New York City. I was alone, pregnant and homeless. I attempted to go home to my Mom in the Bahamas. She brought me a one -way ticket to New York City and gave me $50. I remember it like yesterday. She told me “figure it out. I sent you to go to school not have babies.”
I slept on the park bench outside the school, took showers in the gym and attended all the club events on campus, until the school year ended. I don’t remember my nights. The best thing about New York is that it’s a city that does not sleep. Well, that is if you are not with a child. I remember the cold, near death frost bite and being hungry.
Most people assume that you know how to go to a shelter, get government aid, find support. I didn’t know. I was young from a good family. The idea of government assistance was frowned upon. I passed out and woke up in the hospital. I was alone, young and petrified. My only thought was “get out!” I would soon learn that if I was released from the hospital without having a resident, when I returned my child would go straight into child protective care.
Poverty will have you do some demeaning things to survive. After my hospital experience, I was placed in a teen shelter and given government aid. Twenty plus women are sleeping on cots in an open floor space. I look back now and I am grateful that someone found me. In that moment, those months, it seemed so surreal. No one knew where I was and I don’t even think they cared. I was lost in the system. My every action was controlled by the agency that housed and fed me. I was heart broken. I had no idea how I ended up in that position. I didn’t speak, I barely ate and I busted my ass to stay in school so I would never experience this level of disrespect, shame and poverty. When you are at the bottom, the world looks past you. I watched young mothers get turned out just to have a roof over their head and provide for their children. There were teens from all walks of life in the shelter. The more I heard their stories, the more I realized how important a zip code was in the grand scheme of things. I kept my head down, I did not get familiar with anyone and I prayed. I prayed night and day. For six months, I lived in confinement. I have never been to jail, but the lack of freedom and free will feel very jail-like. I was afraid to close my eyes at night. Persuasion makes people do horrible things. I damn near had to sleep with everything I owned in order to secure my items.
I shared this experience because no one really truly knows what battles people are facing or have overcome. I have seen girls do unspeakable things to get by. That doesn’t make them less human. Back then we didn’t know it was trafficking. We knew what these men in power were asking was wrong, but to put a name on it no! I have done some horrible things to protect, feed and support my family. That was a different time! A chapter in my life that made me into the woman I am today. People take for granted the perfectness of their experiences. I never ate out the garbage because I pride wouldn’t allow me. I didn’t take drugs because I felt like that money would be better spent on my family. I never asked for a single thing because I watch girls get turned out by letting people see their desperation. When I resurfaced, no one asked me anything. It was as if the winter of 1994 and spring of 1995 never existed. Those six months outside changed me. In addition to my years of sexual abuse and my inner battles with my sexuality, there are six months of my life I don’t speak of. Those six months are the reasons why I never had more children, got married and have spent a lifetime in search of true freedom.