by Kimberly Parker
Last week was a trying week for me. Prior to last Monday afternoon, I had stayed glued to the television, watching all of the news about Hurricane Irma, where she was going to strike next, and anticipating her arrival in Atlanta. I am not a stranger to hurricanes since I lived in Mobile, AL (on the Gulf Coast) for eleven years, but it’s been a long time since I have worried about the fact that a hurricane might hit near me. Irma was devastating to all of the places she had encountered so it was a little scary as Atlanta waited for her arrival.
In reality, Atlanta was not nearly as affected as other places. Yes, trees came down. Houses and cars were damaged. And many were without power, but we still did not have the kind of devastation that others experienced.
For me, loss of power was the only issue. Thankfully, we did not have any trees down at our house and no damage of any kind to our house or car or our very beings. We simply were without power for about 80 hours. It was a long 80 hours for me. I tried so hard not to complain because we did not have any damage. We were not hurt. We still had our family. We still had a home.
I have reflected a lot on those few days, trying to figure out why it was so hard for me and trying to learn from a time that challenged me quite a bit. I know that the number one thing I learned from Irma is that there is a lot in life that I take for granted. I have so much more than others, especially in regards to the people experiencing homelessness who walk through Central Outreach and Advocacy’s doors each and every day.
So what are some of the other things I learned?
Lesson #1: Invitation … We had several different friends who did not lose power invite us to stay with them. How often do our guests get an invitation from someone to stay at their place? I would say this almost never happens. And we had more than one invitation.
Lesson #2: Showers … Taking a cold shower is not fun, but it is a shower and, again, we had friends who offered their hot showers to us. Without a home, people often do not have a place to shower. There are agencies and shelters who provide showers, but there are often restrictions that limit how often or how long a person can stay in the shower. Some of our guests may go days without a hot shower. I only went a couple of days without one.
Lesson #3: Cell Phone … One of the things I worried about the most was my cell phone and not being able to charge it. Fortunately, I was able to go into my office on Tuesday, even though we were closed for services, and charge my cell phone. I use my cell phone a lot. I use it for work, news, entertainment, communication, etc. Without it, I felt lost. On our first day being back open, my door was open and I was listening to a conversation taking place in the lobby. Two people were taking turns charging their cell phone. One guest said, “Okay I have 10% battery; you go ahead and charge yours for a little while.” It was a strong reminder that I am way too dependent on my cell phone.
Lesson #4: Laundry … One of my team members said that we could come and do our laundry if we needed to. Fortunately, we had done our laundry over the weekend so the majority of our clothes were clean. We see people walk into Central OAC every day with clothes that appear to have been worn for a while without being washed.
Lesson #5: Food Security … We ate out a lot because we couldn’t cook. We have the means to do that. It might not be the best use of our money, but we didn’t go hungry. Even though there are places for those experiencing homelessness to eat, it’s not always convenient or it may have restrictions that keep some from eating. I know that some of our guests do not have enough food to eat on a daily basis. I never go hungry.
Lesson #6: Darkness … I think one of the things that was so difficult for me was the darkness each night. Yes, we had candles that we lit, but candles can’t light up a room as well as electricity. It made me feel trapped in a sense and I don’t like that feeling. I thought a lot about the people who sleep out on the street. They must experience the kind of darkness that I felt last week, but possibly on a daily basis.
Last week was a trying week for me. Through it all, I tried not to complain, but I did. My routine was thrown off, and I am a person who thrives best with routine. I kept trying to remind myself that we really did not have it all that bad, and, even though the power being out was an inconvenience, it would return. Life would also go back to being “normal.” I don’t think I am finished learning from Hurricane Irma. Each day, something else happens or I hear another conversation that reminds me of how privileged I am. I need to do a better job of not taking life and all that comes with life, for granted. I guess I should say “thanks” to Irma for teaching me a lesson or two.