by Sharon Carter

Editor’s note: Sharon Carter gave this vivid description of her years of homelessness as part of the International Day observance at St. Mary’s Center.
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]y name is Sharon. I am a 57-year-old homeless woman living in poverty and I am considered by most to be destitute. I have been homeless for approximately seven years, and living from pillar to post. The streets where I lived were ruthless and frequently violent. I often suffered from hunger, going days without something to eat.
There were periods that I received County General Assistance and food stamps. The amounts that I received were extremely small and only lasted for three months of the year. Imagine living on the streets, receiving General Assistance for three months and then having to wait another year to reapply for benefits. What happens for the other nine months?
There was violence almost every night, from shootings, to robberies and rape. This caused me extreme fear. Every little noise, you wake up.
I remember the first time I was in the shelter. Every hour I would wake up on the hour. That’s one of the ways I knew how to survive. You need a safe place in order to get a good night’s rest, and when you are an older woman on the streets, a good night’s rest is impossible. First, you’ve got to keep moving, and walk around until you are absolutely worn out, and you still try not to sleep. Feet and legs swollen, and you still have to move.
I also witnessed a lot of prostitution, sometimes for drugs, sometimes just to be out there in hopes of something better. It made me feel horrible, seeing young girls about 15 years old, every night making money. The Johns, mainly older dudes, dogging them around. Some of the girls didn’t get paid. These girls are just out there, not knowing, constantly thinking something wonderful is going to happen.

Sharon Carter testified about her experience of being homeless in Oakland for several years before a gathering on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Photo by Janny Castillo

Then there is the panhandling — asking for handouts. I rarely did it because I couldn’t stand being talked to like a dog. Sometimes when you get a little bit of money, other folks see that and start following you, sticking around you trying to leech, waiting for the right time to strike.
Lord, I am so glad my life on the streets is over. I never want that life again. But never say never, because you never know. But I am going to fight my hardest to remain housed. Nobody deserves to be homeless.
People in my community need food, housing, and health care, just as I did when I was out there homeless.