Shower The People in the News!

Bad Day Blues

Have you ever had one of those days where the universe wants you to fail? For example, you wake up and start to get ready for work but your hair is sticking straight up, so you shower to start over. Your hair then betrays you yet again by falling in an even more atrocious way- like Rubeus Hagrid level frizz and an Alfalfa kind of coulic. Now you’ve spent so much time trying to tame the beast atop your head that you’re going to be late for work if you don’t leave right away, so you grab all the things you need off the kitchen counter in one swipe of the arm like its Black Friday and there’s a sale, sling your backpack over your shoulder, and shove an untoasted, unbuttered bagel in your mouth. Finally you slip your key ring onto your pointer finger and jingle them down to the palm, making sure you have enough room to grab your coffee mug while running out the door. You make it to your car, but your keys got stuck on your sweater, pulling an enormous thread lose as you try to unlock your car, and then springs it back, slamming your coffee back into your chest, all over your sweater, and crescendoing on the ground, along with your sad bagel that fell out of your mouth when you attempted to just “oh crap” the situation from happening. You stand there in shock, looking like a Jackson Pollock art installation. 

These days happen to everyone, and they are undeniably the worst part about life, but what if that day was your everyday? Usually after one of these    days, we will go out of our way to make the next day a good one: buy yourself a fancy latte, take an extra ten minutes in the shower, wear an outfit you know you look good in because Office Rachel even said you looked good in it, and Office Rachel has a monthly subscription to Vogue. But if this day happened again and again, would you even bother to do the self-care? Because if coffee ruined your Office Rachel approved outfit, what’s the point?

Let’s think about another scenario: You’re rushing out the door to get to work on time and you slip on a patch of ice. You crush your ankle, have to go to the hospital, and they declare it broken. You work at a warehouse in a no-cause firing state. You lose your job. You can’t find another one and your landlord evicts you. Now the majority of places are no longer available to you for rent because you have an eviction. You’re living out of your car. Your car runs out of gas because you no longer have a job. Your car gets towed, with all of your belongings, sentimental photos and heirlooms, your driver’s license and birth certificate. You are homeless. And your ankle is still broken. 

In my first post I talked broadly about the fact that it’s assumed unhoused folks did something to deserve their current circumstances- you made your bed and you have to lie in it. I don’t subscribe to that way of thinking anymore. Now I want to discuss why I don’t believe that anymore. A lot of us think that homelessness could never affect us, and that it’s a completely different world, unthinkable. An article from NBC15 reads, “The number of consumers living paycheck to paycheck has increased steadily since April 2021 and was 64% in January 2022.” Unfortunately, the reality is that the majority of Americans are closer to being homeless than to being a millionaire, and the current welfare system does not have the capacity to help everyone that it should. I think that it’s easy to push blame onto the unhoused community for being unhoused, but the reality is that no matter how committed you are to making ends meet, sometimes it is just not enough. To see how hard it can be to prevent homelessness, I recommend you go to https://playspent.org/ and try for yourself.

 After meeting several newly unhoused folks, time and time again they tell me they lost their job and were living in their car until it was towed. After seeing them at the beginning and the effects that living on the streets has had, I can tell you with certainty that it was not a flaw in moral character, but the trauma of living on the streets. In the same way that losing housing is a slippery slope, so is losing the opportunities to get into new housing. Keep an eye out for next month’s post when we dive into that topic!

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The Mutual Concession of Generosity

As a woman, if I had to count each time a man grabbed something out of my hands, or wouldn’t let me pick something up because it is “too heavy” for me, I would need more than twenty hands to tally it up on my fingers. It happens so fast that I end up feeling hot and embarrassed, like a child who was just chastised for disobeying the household rules. I don’t think about the fact that I lift very heavy boxes everyday for shower service, or that I go to the gym and lift weights, all I do is hand over the box and smile, thank them politely, and feel less gratified than if I had said no and carried the box myself. 

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with helping the unhoused. I think quite a bit. We often think of the unhoused population singularly as people who need to be helped, and although people do need assistance, we rarely flip the script and ask what this group can assist us with or what skills they already have. When I first started with the shower bus, I did not want anyone receiving services to lend me a hand with unloading the bus and organizing the supplies. This wasn’t because I didn’t trust these people, but because I wanted them to enjoy our services without conditions (and also was unable to separate my own experiences from the ones unfolding in front of me).  Now, however, I realize I was infantilizing our folks and negating their autonomy.

What I didn’t understand was that people who come to shower service already know that there are no conditions or barriers to our service. They don’t feel obligated to help because they think they have to in order to get showers. They help because they want to. What I realize now is that I had a big ego. I was only acknowledging how good I was for letting people relax, and how noble it was not to ask for help from them. What I was dismissing was our folks’ ability to do good. Doing good deeds makes us feel dignified, it gives us that warm fuzzy feeling like a blanket fresh out of the dryer. The whole notion that I didn’t think unhoused folks needed that feeling too was ignorant. 

I think this perspective stems from focusing on people’s present situation rather than who they are and where they’ve been. Lots of my friends on the streets were in the military, contractors, chefs, etc., and have extremely specialized and capable skills to offer. These people are homeless, not helpless; they want to offer up their time to us as a gift, especially if they feel like it’s the only thing they have left to give.

I used to feel weird when our friends would offer me small tokens or gifts; again I thought I shouldn’t take anything, abstract or concrete, from people who need more than I do. Then I realized that assuming that they couldn’t afford to or shouldn’t offer me gifts came from a place of superiority, and that the work we do is incredibly relational- it needs to be a mutual concession of generosity. So, I want to leave you with a few things my friends have given (or offered) me throughout my time here, because I’ve never met a more generous group of people. They’re gracious in ways I did not previously understand. 

  • Once, a man at shower service offered me an extremely expensive and detailed pocket knife to defend myself. He was worried about my safety as a young woman who travels around Nashville alone a lot. 
  • One of my friends on the street pulled out a bottle of semi-permanent red hair dye for me (for context, my hair is already slightly red). She wanted me to take it because I “would look so sexy in this color”. She was going to use it herself, but was offering for me to take it instead. I don’t dye my hair, but almost took this one because, in all honesty, I would have looked great in that color. 
  • Another one of my friends gave me and a coworker Six Flags memorabilia cups to drink Dr. Pepper he also bought for us. I still have the cup and wonder where he got them. 
  • One friend goes dumpster diving to find jewelry to refurbish and sell. I had previously told him I had gotten into studying mushrooms. He had found a mushroom necklace and given it to me. 
  • Someone painted me a beautiful picture of my Dalmatian, Leila. It was quite accurate. 
  • My friend Matt bought us cherry slushies for doing his VI-SPDAT, a governmental tool that would help him get into permanent housing. He passed away two weeks later. I found out after that his slushies were never actually full slushies, but a 64oz cup filled with vanilla ice cream and a bit of slushie on top to conceal it. Thinking about that always makes me smile. 
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Bad Day Blues

Have you ever had one of those days where the universe wants you to fail? For example, you wake up and start to get ready

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