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Homelessness , Supportive Housing

Speaking Up For Those Who Can’t

15 February 2013

The new addition to the Hartford shelter looked sad and lonely, just like I did when I awoke my first morning there. The woman – who was in her 30s but looked older -- hadn’t been there the night before, at lights out. She’d come in around 2 a.m., after her boyfriend hit her.

She’d come in with only a small bag and the clothes on her back. I said hello to her. I told her I understood how she felt, although I wasn’t in the shelter because of a domestic violence situation. I’d arrived there in the middle of the night from a hospital, where I was treated for stress. I had been living in my car, and I told her I’d been at the end of my rope, and was ready to give up. Everyone has a breaking point. The morning I woke up after my first night in the shelter, I was confused, too. I’d never been in a shelter before. Ever.

We went across the street to have breakfast at a shelter that is also a soup kitchen. There, we sat at the table and talked. It had snowed the night before. She had only a short jacket and her boots had holes in the bottom. After a while, I took her back across the street and asked the staff to please give her a warm jacket and snow boots. I took her under my wing. She needed someone to be nice to her, and she ended up calling me “Ma.”

I used to see her quite a bit. You have to be everybody’s advocate. You have to speak up for people who can’t speak up for themselves. I’m moving to New Jersey, where I hope the job opportunities will be better, and I intend to keep speaking up. I feel compelled to be an advocate for people who can't, or don't know how, to speak for themselves.

Sarah Ratchford is an advocate for the homeless in Connecticut.

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