Finding a place called home

Photo of Sheila White's new kitch

Courtesy by Sheila White

This article was featured in the May 13 digital-only edition of Street Sense. Until it is safe to resume person-to-person sales, you’ll always be able to find the current digital-only edition at Thank you for reading! Please continue to support our vendors through our mobile app (

A week before Mother’s Day, I picked up my keys and moved into my apartment. On Mother’s Day weekend, my daughter sent me a cheesecake that she created and a custom blanket featuring photos of everyone I love, which now adorns my new living room. It’s already home.

Photo of a black blanket featuring many photos of people, laying on a brown carpet.
The blanket my daughter gave to me. Photo by Sheila White

But it was a long road to get there. I’ve been trying for 18 months to find a landlord that will accept my housing voucher. I was homeless for seven years. 

The first three, I slept in the parks and on playgrounds. My life was spinning out of control. I remember sleeping on the playground and it started to snow real heavily. Freezing cold with no blanket, just my North Face jacket on. It seemed like I was the only one on the planet and no one cared.

After three years of sleeping in apartment buildings, benches, and playgrounds, I took refuge in a shelter called Patricia Handy Place For Women. My problems didn’t go away living there because I endured prejudice. I was told by many advocates when I first got there that they weren’t going to help me, so I had to learn how to advocate for myself. I found myself asking a case manager at Street Sense to step in and she gladly took on the challenge. 

On numerous occasions, Ms. Julie Turner had to come down to Pat Handy and talk to advocates about what they were going to do about my housing. They had no clue. A

I was hospitalized for being malnourished. I entered the shelter healthy. Now I am diabetic due to the food it served. Dinner was always burnt and we had pasta every day. Once in a while, we’d have baked, dried fish. When I asked about a special diet, I was told the food they serve is already chosen with diabetics in mind. But diabetics should not have rice or pasta every single day. Since that’s what they provided, my choice was to eat out or don’t eat. Lord knows I tried to eat the food. But when I did, I got sick and cramped up. 

Photo of a cake sitting on a table.
The cake my daughter created for me to celebrate Mother’s Day in my new place. Photo by Sheila White

My four years in Patricia Handy were a nightmare. People stole my clothes and other small items that were valuable to me. If you reported it, nothing was really done. The most that would happen is we’d have meetings about what would happen if you took someone’s belongings. At one point, my phone was intentionally broken by another resident. I asked if the staff could view the security tape. They did and told me, in a joking manner, “I won’t tell you who it was, because I don’t want you and the other person to get into it.” I said I would go to small claims court and file the necessary papers and make them pay for my phone. Everything seemed to be a joke to the new staff there.

I always pitched in when needed. When the elevator broke, I helped the advocates bring food to our floor. I also decorated for holidays and cleaned anything I could do to pass the time away in this place. Nothing seemed to help because the advocates still weren’t helping. I would tell them what Ms. Turner and I were doing about my housing situation. 

The Coronavirus hit the world and I was still at Patricia Handy, nervous and scared that I might catch it and die. I started wearing a mask. You couldn’t practice social distancing in there. You had to stay in a dorm with at least 10 other people or go to the common area where everyone eats and sits. Those were your options. 

They were taking people out of Pat Handy left and right due to this virus by the time I left. I was fortunate enough to go stay with my family as things got worse. There was no room for me with them.  I slept on the floor for five weeks until I signed my lease on April 29.

Lease day was the best thing that happened in the seven years of being homeless.

Photo of a hallway, with part of a couch visible in the room where the photo was taken.
The hallway in my new apartment. Photo by Sheila White

And thanks to Street Sense Media teaching me that the power of speech, I am not afraid to tell my stories. This paper gave me the courage to speak out about injustice in the world. We tell our stories through poetry, songs, and photos and demonstrations at the Wilson Building. And through Street Sense Media, I was introduced to so many other wonderful people and organizations, such as Miriam’s Kitchen. I became an advocacy fellow at Miriam’s and learned how to organize and lead from a team of professionals. The staff I worked with for those six months are deeply caring and compassionate about serving homeless communities. I am so proud and honored to have worked with a fine group of men and women who put their life on the line to go out and help people experiencing homelessness every day, especially now with the coronavirus.

Thank you, Miriam’s Kitchen. You have given me so much. When I didn’t think anyone cared, you reminded me that people do care. When I felt alone, you made sure I wasn’t. You kept me busy. Your arts and crafts and meals make all the difference to people like me. The love you pour out to us is never going unnoticed. Thank you!!!

These last three years, I had ups and downs. But with the Street Sense team — Eric the editor, Professor Willie, Bryan Bello with the film co-op, Ms. Laura from American University, Ken Martin, my best friend Angie Whitehurst — Julie Turner, Miriam’s Kitchen, and Pathways to Housing, I have a  purpose again. 

Getting my associates degree is becoming a reality. I didn’t think it would because I was always tired. I didn’t sleep at all in the shelter. Doing homework now is possible. I don’t have to wait until 11 p.m. to be able to study anymore. I am sitting in my new place thinking of things I need and not what I don’t because God has just provided me with what I needed: good friends and a place to call home.

Read more:A student and her shelter.”

Issues |Housing

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We believe ending homelessness begins with listening to the stories of those who have experienced it.