Success feels different after failure.
And there is no greater fail than losing your dignity and having your humanity marginalized. Overcoming that level of defeat, which is the agony of homelessness, requires a Herculean effort. It is no small feat to fight for your life; make no mistake about it, this is what it means to live in a homeless shelter.
I know a number of men (in the double-digits), who once lived on New York City’s lowest societal rung–the epicenter of homelessness known as Ward’s Island; they didn’t succeed in living to see themselves rise to the rank of “formerly homeless.”
Those last two words, so simple, so sweet. When I say them it sounds victorious; they mean success–in spite of unbelievable hardship–success that can be keenly sensed in the simplest things:
Success is opening the mailbox and seeing a utility bill bearing your name.
Success is putting out regular trash on Tuesdays and recyclables on Fridays.
Success is boiling water on YOUR stove, in a glass kettle that you paid $1 for at the Every Thing Goes thrift shop.
Success is buying TWENTY pints of Haagen-Dazs (because they’re on sale for $2 each and you have 20 “$1 OFF” coupons).
Success is having a freezer for all that ice cream!
Success is coming home–Wait, repeat that: Success is coming home–and instead of seeing (yet again) a body bag being tossed in the Medical Examiner’s van parked outside the Keener Men’s Shelter, I see a refrigerated truck in front of mi casa because leche and queso is being delivered to the Guatemalan corner store.
Success is when you have keys and walk in whenever you please–no more sign-in sheet.
Success is attending Coalition for the Homeless’ weekly Client Advisory Group meeting and introducing myself:
“Hi, I’m Dennis. Formerly homeless.”
M.A. Dennis is a writer and a formerly homeless member of the Coalition’s Client Advisory Group (CAG). This essay won the 2019 Care for the Homeless Summer Solstice Celebration “Story of Success” Essay Competition. His writing has appeared in the New York Daily News and is featured in CAG’s newsletter The Monitor.