Like the rest of us, Sheila White has been trying to stay safe in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, while balancing work, school, and thoughts about the election. But after seven years of homelessness, she has one asset on her side she didn’t have before: Last spring, she secured housing and moved into an apartment of her own. The move has changed her life.
Sheila says the day she signed her lease was “very touching and moving.” She feels like she can finally relax. “I can live and breathe again … it has been the most wonderful thing,” Sheila said while talking about how much her new apartment has improved her well-being.
Living on her own has brought new independence and opportunities. Before finding housing, Sheila stayed in a shelter and was forced to arrange her schedule around the shelter’s rules — she needed to get to the shelter by 4 p.m. to ensure she got a bed, and lights out was at 11 p.m. Now Sheila enjoys the simple freedom of choosing when she wants to do things. She can shop and cook a Sunday dinner on her terms. She can complete her homework without worrying about her laptop being stolen. Amid the pandemic, having a space to herself she knows is safe has made her feel secure.
Sheila has been active in the Street Sense Media community since 2016. At Street Sense Media, Sheila says she has “learned how to advocate for [her]self and the voice [she has] now.” She first came to Street Sense Media after finding herself homeless because of a flood in her apartment, and engaging with the organization was a way to occupy her time and help her mental health. Sheila joined every workshop she could at Street Sense Media, including the writers’ group, photography workshop, and film workshops. She looked forward to working on her skills in these groups every day.
The love for learning Sheila explored at Street Sense Media encouraged her to seek more educational opportunities. Since 2017, Sheila has been working toward a degree in photojournalism at the University of the District of Columbia. She recalls the day she was accepted to UDC as one of the best days of her life. When remembering the day, she says, “it’s bringing joy to my face right now to talk about.” This semester UDC’s classes are online, so fewer tutoring resources are available. However, Sheila is determined to continue her studies and earn her degree.
Sheila is also a passionate advocate within the homeless community, where she enjoys talking to people to ensure they know their rights and understand the power of their voices. Sheila is involved with Miriam’s Kitchen and the People for Fairness Coalition, which are social service and advocacy organizations working with unhoused and low-income people in D.C. When asked whether there was one thing she wants Street Sense readers to know, she said, “somebody cares about you. Even if you are out in the cold with people walking by you, and it feels like nobody does.”
Favorite place in D.C.: Down at the monuments! Sheila loves spending time on the national mall and meditating in the sun.
Favorite thing about Street Sense Media: Everything! Sheila is so thankful for the group meetings and the education she has gotten from them, from the people, and the opportunity to learn how to write poems and stories in her voice. The only thing she doesn’t like is saying goodbye when staff members leave.
Sheila’s hopes for the future: She wants to continue writing people’s stories,taking their photos, and completing her degree at UDC. Ultimately, she wants to “give the homeless community a voice like Street Sense did for me.”
One piece of advice to share with Street Sense readers: Be strong!