What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series click here. Today’s guest post is anonymous.
I am an emotionally stable, completely functional, middle class wife and mother... and my father is currently homeless. I preface the statement with information about myself because the first thing I want you to know about having a homeless parent is they weren't always like they are now.
For the majority of my life my father was also emotionally stable, completely functional, and middle class. He worked in oncology in the local hospital, he paid his bills on time, and he had a nice three bedroom home in the suburbs. I didn't grow up dealing with these issues, I grew up with him present, engaged and healthy. Then at some point something changed, I don't know what or exactly when but it did.
I want you to know that someone being homeless doesn't mean there aren't people out there who love and care about them. Before I was in this situation I assumed all homeless people were alone in the world, because obviously if they had friends or family who cared about them they would be staying at their house while they got back on their feet. I didn't realize that the circumstances surrounding homelessness are rarely that simple. I didn't realize that no matter how much you love a person eventually there may come a point where you will be forced to choose between continuing to help them and your marriage, your own safety, or the well being of your children.
I want you to know that mental illness isn't always obvious, and that someone doesn't have to be muttering to imaginary people at the bus stop to be suffering profoundly. If you sat and chatted with my father for an hour you would probably think he was nothing but a kind, funny, gregarious man... because he is those things. But he's also someone who makes dangerous decisions, who can't handle the most basic parts of living independently, and who regularly confuses the things in his imagination with the real world around him.
I want you to know that just because I stopped letting him live with me doesn't mean I stopped trying to help him. I've done everything in my power to secure him housing but at the end of the day there are things he needs to do to accomplish that and if he doesn't it won't happen. I find him almost every day to make sure he has bus passes so he can get where he needs and enough food to eat.
Mostly I want you to know how incredibly heartbreaking making the decision to let someone stay on the streets is. I want you to know that the last thing in the world I wanted was to not know whether the father that I love so much is sleeping on a dirty park bench tonight. I want you to know that I know people judge me for not letting him back in my guestroom and that I don't blame them because I go back and forth every single day between thinking I'm a terrible person and thinking that I'm doing the right thing by prioritizing my children's safety over his. I want you to know that the families of homeless people often feel scared, torn, and frustrated themselves.
I want you to know that having a homeless family member isn't easy, and that it doesn't mean I don't still love them.