I felt on edge. I had a feeling things were about to change. I had
been sleeping in the same parking lot too often, but it was my
favorite. It belonged to a business with employees, twenty-four hours
a day, seven days a week. Small hills surrounded my car, blocking
me from the road. I felt safe being only slightly off the main
highway. The same traffic that carried my danger also carried my
I changed into my sweats, the clothes I slept in. I watched a man
walking toward my car from my side mirror. I quickly tried to
rearrange my car so it wasn’t obvious that I was living there. I
grabbed my pen and paper and tried to look busy as if doing an
assignment for college under the parking lot lights. I began thinking
about what I would say to him.
Maybe he was coming to help.
He tapped on my driver’s side window. I acted surprised and
rolled it down a crack. I could tell by the disgust on his face that he
was not there to help me.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“You can’t sleep here!”
“Oh, I’m not. I’m waiting for my workout partner. He’s late. We
workout at that gym,” I said, pointing.
He knew I was lying and walked away.
I rolled up the window and tears rolled down my face. I was
embarrassed. I was angry at him. Couldn’t he see I was homeless? I
just needed a safe place to sleep. I hardly drink. I don’t do drugs. I’m
not a dirty street person. I shower every day.
But to him, I was trash.
I couldn’t stop crying. I drove my car to the public library to take
my mind off my lonely homelessness. I couldn’t go in. My tears
wouldn’t stop. I tried to laugh it off. It had worked in the past, but
not this time. I was tired. I had beaten myself down. I was no longer
a hard scab. I was an open wound and I was in pain. The cold hurt.
The night hurt.
And every thought hurt.
After sitting in torment for two hours, I went to the dry cleaning
store I managed and let myself inside. I grabbed the phone book and
searched for a hotline for help. My eyes still blurry with tears, I
dialed the number. The woman who answered connected me to a
shelter. Within a half an hour, I was driving to that shelter for help.
Judith, a heavyset woman, led me to the dining room. We sat
down together at the table. I was still crying.
“We have room. We’d like you to stay,” Judith said.
“I really just want to talk to someone.”
“OK. Can I get you something?”
“No,” I said. “I was doing fine until tonight. A man kicked me out
of a parking lot. All I wanted was a safe place to park my car so I
could get some sleep. I wasn’t breaking any laws, was I?” I asked,
wanting to be reassured that I wasn’t.
“Why are you living in your car, Angie? Do you have family?”
“Because I can’t afford a place to live. And, yes, I have family
but I can’t be around them.” I grabbed a Kleenex from the box in
front of me, then added, “Not like this. I don’t want to be around
anyone right now.”
“We can help you find a job.”
“I have a job, two jobs,” I snapped.
“Are you angry at me?”
I took a deep breath and sighed, remembering that this woman
wanted to help me. “No… I’m just tired.” My tears welled up again,
and I put my head down on the table.
“Honey, why don’t you stay with us tonight.”
That thought frightened me. Who would I have to share a room
with? Who would I have to talk to? Would I have to fill out paper
work, let the government know I was homeless? Would I have to get
up in the morning and do chores? Would I be safe? “I just want a
safe place to park.”
“OK. What about those twenty-four hour grocery stores. You
could park at Cub Foods one night and Rainbow the next. There are
enough people around that nobody should bother you. The parking
lots are well lit, and I’m sure nobody would chase you out.”
“That’s a good idea,” I said and raised my head. I had already
spent many nights at those parking lots. It wasn’t easy sleeping there.
Besides the bright lights, I woke to many car doors slamming. It
didn’t matter where I parked in those lots; somebody always ended
up right next to me. I often heard them talking about me, reminding
me what I had become.
“Angie, if you have two jobs, why are you living in your car?”
“Well, I was living with a guy. We were both miserable, so I
moved out. I have credit card debt. I owe more money each month
than I make. I never found a place to live. I thought I’d live like this
for a month or so just to get back on my feet, but it’s five months
later and I’m still here.”
I felt the heat in my face and added, “I’m crying more… It’s
Judith spent three hours counseling me on money, relationships,
and how to take better care of myself. The three areas I had been
failing. She reassured me that no matter how far in debt I was,
nobody had the right to keep me from a roof over my head.
Before I left the shelter around 2:00 a.m., Judith loaded me up
with canned food, crackers, peanut butter, shampoo, tampons, and
toothpaste. She helped me carry the two bags out to my car. Judith
gave me a hug and told me to be safe. That was the first human
touch I’d had in a long time. I missed being touched.