The Ins and outs of Survival
By Winter Trabex
My journey from stable housing, to homelessness, and back to stable housing has been a difficult one. I have experienced eviction, the shelter system, being on the street, living in an RV, staying with a friend, and finally moving into my current stable housing situation.
I’m transgender and disabled. I have anxiety/depression, autism, and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). During multiple stays in a Manchester shelter, I found staff incredibly supportive of my gender identity. However, the shelter system, which offers many services and assistance for those with substance use disorders, does not serve disabled individuals in a consistent manner. At times, shelter staff does not honor medical notes from providers and does not adequately accommodate people with disabilities.
In the shelter where I stayed, most of the beds were on the second floor, accessed by a long stairwell on either side of the building. People with mobility issues relied on a mechanical lift to get up the stairs. During my time at the shelter, the lift was sometimes broken and took months to repair. People with mobility issues had to crawl or be carried up the stairs. There was a period where a woman with a disability was sleeping on a cot in the shelter’s dining area because she couldn’t access the bunk room.
Due to my CFS, I require a lot of sleep just to get through the day. I often wear noise-canceling headphones meant for gun ranges in order sleep. If I don’t get the required sleep, my chronic fatigue results in difficulty concentrating, emotional meltdowns, and other cognitive declines.
Shelters have set schedules. The one that I stayed at had a 7pm curfew and required residents to wake up at 6am with a reveille-style alarm. Rather than accommodating my chronic fatigue, management at the shelter forced me to comply with its rigid sleep schedule for most of my stay there – something that is inconsistent with medical recommendations.
I requested extended sleeping times, or the ability to sleep and be awake when I wanted, only to be denied. It is generally understood that the non-profit company which owns the shelter is concerned that if it makes an exception for one person, it must make an exception for everyone. This operational mindset means that needs go unmet, while conditions become worse for people with disabilities.
By my third time through the shelter program, I was exhausted, worn down, and passing my days trying to stay awake rather than falling asleep wherever I could find space – and I wasn’t alone. Many residents in the shelter program experience sleep deprivation because of the inflexible sleeping schedule. Sleep deprivation has many deleterious effects on the human body and on a person’s mental state, including decreased energy and mental functioning. This only compounds problems for those who already experience health challenges because of substance use disorders or their disability.
People who struggle in this way often spend their days asleep in a park or slumped over the tables in the shelter’s cafeteria. They then become less effective finding work, accessing services, and finding stable housing.
Some residents in the shelter have been there for years, just going through each day trying to survive. While their individual challenges are not always the same, it’s clear to me – despite my own success at finding housing – that by failing to accommodate disabilities, the shelter fails the very population it seeks to serve.
If the shelter wants to see better results with the residents who seek its services, they could begin by ensuring a universally accessible facility, honoring doctors’ notes, working with residents to accommodate their disabilities, and connecting disabled people to the community-based system of support provided by our state’s area agencies and other non-profits.
Failing this, these issues will continue to persist to the detriment of residents, staff, and the organization itself.
Winter Trabex is a freelance writer from Manchester and regular contributor to Community Voices.