Housed, But Still Homeless

by Ruthie Van Esso

I was homeless. I lived on the streets, and I lived in shelters. Currently I have a roof, but I am going to tell you why I am still homeless.

My biological father beat my mom for years; we escaped to an undisclosed domestic violence shelter for women and their kiddos. My mom remarried, to a wonderful man, and I had peace for some time. I went out into the world thinking I could be normal, unharmed in my mind, body, and  heart. I went to school to fulfill my promise. I felt grateful that I got out. I got out of raw violence, drug abuse, running to grab my forgotten baby brother crying in front of the fireplace. I got out of depression, starvation of understanding. Then I repeated this experience in adulthood.

I got the fuck out, as a kid and as an adult. Not many are so lucky.

I now work for a non-profit, providing stable housing, mental aid, kindness without question and the undeniable need for harm reduction.

I live in San Francisco, a community that advertises itself as a place of equality and a non-judgment, the home of the Merry Pranksters, a welcoming place for my fellow rags-to-riches peeps. 

But a home is where you feel safe, so I do not have a home in San Francisco. Why? My comrades are experiencing street sweeps, shamed for having a criminal record. I come against people with the mindset that poverty comes from laziness, politicians who say hospitals are going out of business because immigrants are milking the system by flooding the emergency room. What is safe about that?

I dream every night. I dream of mental health workers on the streets. Dream of an environment where if you are in a tent, it’s not outrageous that you will be wearing a button down shirt in six months walking to your job at a homeless shelter—the very thing that gave you and myself hope.

I have a roof. I have shoes. I am no longer so hungry that I can’t fall asleep.

But if San Francisco doesn’t make the issue of poverty and homelessness the most imminent striking factor of our city, my heart will have no home. Ever.

And I find these truths to be self-evident, that we all have the inalienable right to a place to call home.