The unnamed woman

The woman did not look homeless. She looked healthy, clean. She seemed more like a sweet, wise grandmother than a woman navigating the streets of New York.

As I walked to a weekly writing meet-up, I passed a small woman.
She was strange. Near Columbus Avenue, she stood with a laminated sign hung around her neck. It read something like “I am homeless, please help.” She had a colorful hat with a yellow pattern peeking out beneath a blue hood. She was elderly and when I gave her a dollar she smiled nicely and, with a faint accent, said: “God bless.”
The woman did not look homeless. She looked healthy, clean. She seemed more like a sweet, wise grandmother than a woman navigating the streets of New York.
When I asked if I could ask her some questions for the blog, she was happy to oblige but preferred that I neither record or take notes. She said she was happy to help, provided I keep her anonymous. She might work again she, she explained. She didn’t want her image tarnished by homelessness.
I didn’t ask her any questions. She just started her story, before I’d asked anything. She wanted me to know why and how she had gotten to her position.
She said she’d worked for 35 years in New York City and invested her money into the stock market, where it was, eventually, lost. Sometime after then, she got lung cancer. While she’s taking medication for the cancer, there’s a risk it may spread to her other lung. As she said this, she turned away to cough into a tissue before turning back to me. She and her partner, who she’s been with for 18 years, tried to go to the shelters but the shelters would not take them because they weren’t from the United States.
The shelters weren’t preferable. She couldn’t sleep with her partner and they couldn’t have their own rooms. It was dangerous, she said. Many people at the shelter, she said, drink or use drugs.
Her partner’s PTSD also makes finding a living situation difficult. He is a survivor of 9/11, she said.
“So, it’s different,” she said of her story and her struggle. “Because of the trauma.” He’s getting better, she assured me.
The woman seemed to want to separate herself from others who are asking for money. She told her story matter of factly. Not allowing for pity. Right now, she admitted, she and her partner have a place to live.
She was asking for money so she could pay for the housing. She gets a little bit of money, she said, because of her cancer. But it’s not enough.
Towards the end of our conversation, before she kindly dismissed me, she offered some sage advice, as many elders bestow upon their younger, naïve, counterparts.
“As long as you have god in your heart, it’s going to be okay,” she said.

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