Every day a new woman comes to N Street Village, a charity for women experiencing homelessness in the District. Recently, I spoke with three who live at Patricia Handy Place, a shelter that N Street Village operates in Chinatown.
Rose, 69, has lived at Patricia Handy Place since April. She was evicted from her apartment on Columbia Road after having several surgeries on her spine and knees.
On her profession: "My job is to be a home health worker. I take care of patients. [The agency] sends me to people that are sick, people that are old, people that are just helpless, who can't do things on their own. I was working before my sickness. Then for five years I haven't been to any place."
On finding N Street Village: "I called the shelter hotline and I said, 'Which one is the best?' They said, 'Patricia Handy.' I love this place. The cleanness of this place is like the hospital."
On plans for the future: Rose's health has improved since her surgeries. She walks two miles a day to get stronger and hopes to get her old job back soon. "My work is already waiting for me. They say 'Walk, walk, walk — be strong like a lion and come back.' "
On life: "The greatest thing in this life is to love — and to hurt no one."
Marisa, 68, has lived at Patricia Handy Place since June. She arrived from Wilmington, N.C., thinking she could make a fulfilling life for herself in Washington, but found it was very expensive and waiting lists for housing assistance were very long.
On people finding out she's homeless: "If you tell someone you're homeless, they won't even shake your hand. They'll take a step back, like you're going to contaminate them."
On living at Patricia Handy Place: "Here you get that immediate feeling: You mean I'm safe? You mean I'm not going to get kicked out? If I do everything right, I can stay. I can have that security in my life until I get my place."
On what N Street Village does: "It's not the same thing as just feeding people. It's about investment in people's emotional needs, getting them out of the problems that they're in so they can clear their heads."
On the future: Marisa speaks Spanish and French and would like to be an interpreter. She would also like to be a museum docent.
Patricia, 71, has lived at Patricia Handy Place since January.
On losing her home: "A lot of times it is not the person's actual fault that put them in the situation. My grandchild and I were evicted. He had been diagnosed with Crohn's disease. He lost his job. They said, 'You're too sick.' Social Security, I appreciate it, but the work I put in to get it is lacking. I couldn't carry the rent. That's how we lost our home."
On people finding out she's homeless: "Some people look at you, they don't see you. There are others that glance and scurry along. There's some couples, the gentleman will cuddle the female closer like you're going to pounce on them."
On a recent encounter: "I'm a watcher, watching people. I go outside and I have a little stool I sit on. This one gentleman came up the sidewalk and he had a beautiful smile. He walked over to me and handed me a juice. I didn't want to take it, but why am I going to block his blessing? I said 'Thank you.' And then he handed me a banana.
“The little act of kindness made up a little for the people who cross the street when they see us. We’re people. Homelessness is not contagious. You can’t catch it from us.”
On the future: With help from N Street Village, Patricia has acquired a housing voucher that will allow her to move into her own apartment in January. "I wish I didn't have to have gone through this journey, but I'm glad I did," she said. "The people in here that I have met, there are some that are as close as family."
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For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.