Tent camping? Sure. Backpacking for multiple days? Absolutely. But to LIVE outside, with no other home base? Never. Nor did I know that it is illegal to do so.
I never knew that I could walk about 15 steps into the woods from a paved parking lot in a high-traffic, heavily populated area and find myself in what feels like a 3rd world country. A tent city filled with the smell of burning trash & human excrement in the air. Surrounded by what were once someone’s treasured belongings, now rained and trampled on so thoroughly that these grounds have become a dump.
I have also never had to wonder what it might be like to function each day without a toilet, a sink with fresh running water, a hot shower, a medicine cabinet or something as simple as a mirror.
How do I get ready for work? Where do I go when my food doesn’t settle well? What to do when I get a cold? How long does it take for an unbathed body to smell to other people?
I have never worried about what it would look like to figure out how to function in 2022 without electricity.
What are the options when the temps drop to the 40ºs or below? How do I charge a phone to access emails, text messages, call employers or my children? If I’m at 9%, can I plug into one of the outlets at the store up the street? If they don’t want me there, will they have me arrested for trespassing? (Yes.)
Not once have I had to work through what it looks like when my tent and tarps (the only shelter for my body & belongings) get ravaged by the winds and rains of a rolling North Georgia thunderstorm. With my work clothes, the items I grabbed from a donation center yesterday, my PJs, jacket, socks & shoes and my only roll of toilet paper now soaked through.
Never have I ever thought about how people (often aged 50+) survive on disability, fixed incomes, and/or their VA benefits. How that amount is never enough to make rent, much less live off of. And I never knew that these people fill homeless encampments.
Never have I ever had to worry about keeping my necessities (ID, social security card, cash, prescription medication) on my person at all times, even while sleeping, due to high rates of thievery by the other desperate humans around me.
Never have I ever considered that personal injury or illness, the grief of a heavy loss or the spiral of my mental health could affect my ability to perform my job to the point that I might be removed from my position and that within two months, I could find myself on the street with nowhere to go except the tree line across the way.
Never have I ever been forced to try to find help from ANYONE willing to give it – local organizations or good-natured people.
Never have I ever had to worry about being judged or denied resources because of the ways I self-medicate for my pain, trauma, stress, frustrations or depression.
Never… until now. Until I had the opportunity to sit with, listen to, and come alongside the real humans who have found themselves in these realities. To hear their voices, to help them get their first warm shower in weeks, and to finally truly see what homelessness really is.
This issue needs us. In Gwinnett. In counties surrounding us.
It is estimated that the number of homeless individuals in our area is 6x higher than it was in 2019.
Turn your “Never have I ever” into “Let’s get started” and find a way to get involved. Here are some organizations that need you.
StreetExit of North Georgia
Agape Project of Georgia
Hope Through Soap
Thank you to Lindsey Migliori with
Wayfind Collective for this submission!