“The women we used to see”: another of researcher’s Spring 2017 essays re causes of homelessness

The Women We Used to See

And then there are the women we used to see. The ones who held Starbucks cups and wore fashionable sunglasses as they stood next to us and made small talk at our children’s soccer matches. Women who were home-room moms. Women who raised money to build shelters for the homeless. Mothers who took their children with them to deliver sandwiches to a special group of perpetual victims. Those women who were raped or beaten or robbed one too many times. Those women whom shelters now refuse to rescue from the ice and snow. Their sin? They sought protection and companionship in a dog. But that home-room mom, that woman we used to see, understood. She got it. And the next time she took her children to deliver sandwiches, they took along thick plastic bags hand-filled with dog food drawn from their own supply.

But none of that matters anymore. Three times in the past seven months, a judge found that this mother was a danger to herself or others. And each time, the judge ordered that the mother be kept in a hospital with locked doors and shower curtains that hang from PVC pipe sawed so it will snap if she tries to hang herself. Again. And no. She can’t keep the laces for her K-Swiss.

So now we no longer see her. Or the others. Those women with remnants of good hair, adorned in tailored clothes, with smooth skin and manicured nails and broken faces, souls hobbling on this season’s severed heels, penniless losers of cage-fights in divorce court. Women cut off from family and friends because “it’s best this way.” These are daughters and mothers and sisters and schoolmates who – with vacant, blood soaked sclera – now drag off the strange bus at the underfunded women’s shelter on the strange side of town, more newly scuffed leather luggage than they can carry.

These, the new unseeable women, are easy prey for street vultures who sniffed the earliest fragrance of decay and which now circle expectantly above. Waiting. Scavengers who, like the ancient Gnostics, keep close the secret knowledge of salvation: who you don’t look at, what you don’t ask, what you don’t wear, whom you don’t trust. Scavengers who know where it’s safe to shower or try to sleep or get a hot meal or get an “Obama phone” – a government-funded few free minutes that are more essential than mace in a society that no longer offers pay phones. And god help you if one of the agencies that care puts you on hold.

So the vultures circle and bide their time. They know from experience that the novice unseeable will grow bewildered, depressed, even suicidal when she learns that professional colleagues, bankers and members of her pilates and prayer groups no longer see her. As they prepare to tear her into small scraps, they know it won’t be long now. It won’t be long until she trembles at the edge of the train platform. What else is she supposed to do? For sworn, vile fiction treated as evidence prompted a court to order her to stay away from the children in whom she has invested her soul since before they were born. And the clean-up crew, gliding above, will watch. And they will wait patiently until, blinded by grief, the novice stumbles into a dead-end alley or sobs in pointless anguish when she learns that the kindergarten teacher who told her that she could always call on the police was simply telling another fairy tale.

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