By Haley CorralThird-Term AmeriCorps Member

It is 1:03 am, awake again. At 23 years old I could be in a bar or with friends, but I have been wide awake with that dream about the man in the riverbed. He had spider bites up and down his leg. His flesh had blackened on the areas that his torn pants exposed. The dream is all too real. The sound of the public health nurse’s voice, his shy demeanor and slight hesitation plague my sleep tonight.

It is 1:03 pm, I am doing an intake. It is the week after the death of my cousin. I am back at work and excited to see my beneficiaries. However, the process of doing an intake takes the most out of me. If these questions about domestic violence, disabilities, and personal trauma can stir my conscience, I can only imagine what the woman I am speaking to is feeling. The feeling passes as she talks about her mental illness and time on the streets openly. I accept her without judgment.

I head home for the day after outreach and sit on my couch. One tear falls then another. I am not crying from sadness, but from exhaustion.

It is 11:03 am, and the police have started stuffing my beneficiaries’ personal items into trash bags and escorting them off public properties. When I tell them it will be okay, my stomach is in knots. The truth is, I do not know that they will get their stuff back. I do not know if they will be safe where they sleep tonight, but for now I will pacify the situation. Later, I will pace my apartment, and wonder if I am equipped to manage the weight of three years in this field.

It is 10:39 pm as I write this. Serving this population has chewed me up and spit me back out, but still I remind myself of something a colleague of mine once said,” You get to wake up and choose to go out and help these people, they don’t get that choice.” So, no matter how tired, drained, or burnt out I am from my work, I know that the life I lead is one of privilege. Through AmeriCorps, I have seen the horrors of being unhoused, the stress of being unable to house everyone, and the disappointment of losing beneficiaries on the streets of Lompoc.

The Secret Life of a Homeless Service Provider is not an easy one.