The 12 Days of Christmas Blessings at the DI
She is 31. She loves to read, "It's my favourite thing in the world," she says. She loves to write. She's started her own blog. "I think if I force myself to write everyday," she says, "It will be therapeutic. And, I hope that if I tell my story, I'll inspire someone else to tell theirs and maybe, I'll be able to help someone else."
She has a gentle sense of humour. A laugh that tinkles like tiny Christmas bells ringing on a clear, winter's night. "I didn't ever expect this," she says. "I was really scared when I first came here."
"This" is homeless.
"Here" is the DI.
"I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what to do. I went to the YWCA but they were full. They told me to come here. I was scared."
Homelessness hit six months ago. "I have a disability," she says. She looks at me, her eyes wide, but slightly unfocused. "See my eyes? It's a learning disability too and that makes it hard for me to get certain jobs. I had a job I really enjoyed at a coffee shop, but they told me I was too slow."
One day, as I stopped at the drive-through window of the Starbucks where she used to work, I complimented her on something she had said at a memorial service for a staff member who had died the week before. "Oh," she responded. Surprise raising the 'oh' into an exclamation. "Thank you for telling me that." Pause. "You were there?"
"Yes," I told her. "I work there."
"Oh." She paused again. It is something I will learn to appreciate about her. Her gentle and considered responses. Not artificial or contrived. Gentle and considered. Jessica thinks before she speaks. "Do you like working there?"
"I love working there."
She smiled. Handed me my latte. "I love working here too."
And now, she no longer works there. She is too slow.
Too slow. In a world of fast --take out, drive-through, instant messages and immediate gratification where you gotta get up and go if you're gonna get where you're goin', Jessica is too slow.
I find her enchanting. There is a gentleness about her. A kindness. A naivety that stops me. Makes me think twice before I say something sarcastic or 'witty'. Makes me think twice about what I'm doing, who I am. She makes me want to be 'a kinder me'.
We are on the fifth floor of the DI. In a transitional housing area. It is 'her home' and she has opened up her home to a TV reporter doing a story on the Christmas WishList.
She opens her locker to show us everything she owns in the world. "It all fits in here," she says motioning to the gym-locker room style space. Metal. Tall and skinny, it holds a few clothes, toiletries, a box and her most favourite possession -- books.
"Where is all your 'stuff'?" I ask.
"I've never really had any stuff," she replies with a shrug of her shoulders. "I've always lived in shared accommodation. The last place I got evicted from because I couldn't pay my rent after I lost my job. I stayed with friends for awhile but that was too much too and when I left, this was all I had."
"What keeps you going?"
"Faith," she easily replies. "Faith in God. I know I will be okay."
This Christmas what would 'rock' Jessica's world is, a night in a hotel room. "Just one night to have a bath. To be alone. Privacy is non-existent here. I'd just like one night to myself on a soft bed." She pauses. Laughs. Thinks about it some more."Of course, if I had someone to share it with that would be nice too, but I don't." Sigh. Smile. "I'm single."
A simple wish from a woman with simple desires. She's 31. Never been married. Had a boyfriend but that wasn't too good. "I've got a lot of healing and learning to do," she says. "My step-father was really abusive. I think it really hurt me." She pauses again. "Deep down."
Deep down, the wounds of being homeless rankle her hard-won peace of mind. "People can be so mean. They can be so unkind. They make judgements. Call 'us' lazy. Or stupid. Or bums. It's not true. I'm not lazy. And I know I'm slow but I'm not stupid. I really want to work but being here makes it hard to remember that I can. It makes it hard to remember who I am."
This Christmas, along with over six hundred other clients at the shelter, Jessica has made a wish on the Christmas WishList. "It would mean the world to me if I get it," she says. She pauses again. "But, I know I'll be okay if I don't."