A Place to Call Home

It never occurred to me that I’d once been homeless…but by definition, it’s the truth.

The Open Table Family at our 2nd Anniversary Party in September 2012.

Two years ago, I had a great job in Washington, DC. I had a Master’s Degree, a great title, and an office so close to the White House that I used to lunch in a park that occupied the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue. I had it all. And then, I lost my job. So, in the middle of the worst winter DC had seen in a generation, and with three cats in tow, I moved to South Florida, where I had some promising job leads. Best laid plans don’t always work out our way, though. The living arrangement I’d made with a childhood friend there was quickly nixed after it was discovered she was allergic to the cats I’d had since I rescued them as 4 week old kittens.  So, there I was. An educated person from a solid middle class background with no job, a borrowed car, no home and quickly dwindling funds. This didn’t happen to people like me…and yet, it was.

I spent the next couple of weeks living in hotel rooms and surfing the couches of friends and acquaintances up and down the South Florida seaboard. On some days, I’d find a kennel where I could board my cats for the day while I tried to find a job. This lifestyle is expensive, however, and I ran out of money. With my last $37 in my pocket,  I had to choose between one more night in a seedy hotel room or food and gas for the borrowed car. I was too proud to call home.

On one of the darkest nights of my life, scared, alone and full of pride, I slept in my friend’s Ford Explorer with three cats on Miami Beach. I told no one. Luckily, that was my only night sleeping in a car; another friend’s sister offered to let me stay at her house until I could “figure things out.” Knowing that my choices were numbered, I opted for the safe route, returned the Explorer to its owner and headed north to Ft. Lauderdale, effectively leaving behind the job leads I had been following. It sounds silly, right? Why wouldn’t I hang around for possible employment? Well, because I had nowhere to sleep and survival wins when playing Catch-22. Camping in her sunroom was temporary from the start—she really didn’t have the room— but that first night I slept like a baby knowing that I was safe under a roof. The next day, I found myself sitting on a beach staring into the sea before me. For the very first time in my life, I asked God, “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?” Two days later, $7 in my pocket and pride swallowed, I was back in my hometown, living with my Dad in Hermitage.

I was lucky. I found a job within a few weeks, and while it didn’t come close to being in my field, it saved my life in many ways. I understood that the only difference between me and those who were still sleeping outside was that I had had a safety net. It occurred to me that I had been homeless, and how quickly and effortlessly I had gained that distinction. I realized that “home” is the place that makes you feel safe, and that while my name wasn’t on the deed; my dad’s house was “home” for me at that moment. He helped me with transportation so I could continue to work. This went on for several months until I could get on my feet.

Living in a situation where I could breathe, I reflected on the story of the dry bones in Ezekiel. I knew I desperately needed to make my life mean more than I felt it did, to serve something larger than myself. No longer a passive observer, I became increasingly involved in my church’s mission work, particularly Room in the Inn. I knew from my own experience how quickly one could find themselves in that “lottery” that determined who had a bed for the night and who didn’t. I quickly discovered that the biggest issue with fighting injustice isn’t always that people don’t care—it’s often that they don’t know there’s a problem-or that they could have a role in fixing it. Or, sometimes it’s that they just think someone else will take care of it. I truly believe that we’re all the least of these, and I understood that my life’s calling needed to involve serving God’s world in a more direct way. Then, I met Ingrid McIntyre, and the course of my life shifted again. I could no longer settle for my corporate job, which served only my bank account. I knew I wanted to do more.

I joined Open Table in May as the Hobson House community coordinator because my life experiences taught me that while many people believe God exists, they don’t always see us following His example. I am proud to be a part of Open Table because I believe that human beings have a right to exist, a right to have a roof over their heads and walls surrounding them, a right to have that shelter with their spouses/partners and their pets. I believe in Open Table because I know that criminalizing survival is an outrage, and betrays our obligation as Christians. I believe that creating additional barriers to employment and safe, affordable housing is the real crime. My heart has been both broken and filled by the residents who call Hobson House “home,” people I’ve come to know as friends. I know how hard it can be to have to choose between a roof and job or keeping your family (four-legged members included) together because for a time—albeit brief—I had to make the same choices.  They are some of the best examples of perseverance and character I’ve ever met. They keep on keepin’ on every single day, no matter what obstacles life or society throws in front of them. They’re my heroes.

Our residents will eventually reconnect with their families or other loved ones; they’ll find sustainable employment and/or move on to permanent housing. For now, though, Hobson House is a place to call home for 12 individuals who, along with Open Table staff and volunteers, have formed a family. I hear them say daily how much Hobson House has blessed their lives. It’s just one more thing we have in common.

This week, we will celebrate Thanksgiving as a House family.  I’m thankful for Ingrid, Kylie, Lindsay, Brett, Erin,  and Lauren whose love for and commitment to the community sustains on days when things seem insurmountable.  I’m thankful for our Board and our church and community partners and the host of volunteers and advocates whose names are too numerous to mention but whose dedication cannot be overstated. I am thankful for John, Jake, Nate, Amanda, Raphael, Robbie, Pete, Randy, Michael, Rhonda and Delores who inspire me everyday. Together, you all help make Hobson House a place to call home.

Tiffany Dale

Hobson House Community Coordinator