Sonya Smiled
Photo Caption
A look inside of a newly set up DESC apartment taken at one of our new building openings.
Photo Credit
DESC Photographer

Sonya Smiled

Gaining housing after years, sometimes decades of homelessness can be a too-good-to-be true moment for some of our clients. They’ve often had close calls, heard idle promises, been lied to and taken advantage of, so it is understandable. This is the story of one of the 1500 people in DESC’s permanent supportive housing programs. We will call her Sonya, and this is the story of seeing her apartment for the first time.

Sometimes our clients aren’t the easiest to serve. They can’t express gratitude, aren’t necessarily nice or positive. Their demeanor can sometimes inform their chances for receiving services, but at DESC, we know that one’s character doesn’t affect their rights to housing. Sonya was pretty well known in the downtown area, as she was loud, didn’t suffer fools well, and could be combative. Signing the lease and paperwork involved with our housing is a trial of patience for anyone, but Sonya wasn’t having a good day. After several hours of this, (and several breaks while she calmed down) it was finally time to show her to the upper floors and apartments.

Sonya didn't like the elevator. “What happens when it breaks down.” She didn't like that the apartment building was so far from downtown. Everyone she knew was still in the shelter. She complained all the way into the apartment, but then fell silent. She walked to the big window and stood looking out from it for a little while. We let her process. "A view" she finally said. Her head low, she walked past us and investigated the bathroom, opened some drawers in the kitchen, and looked at the bed. She sat on the bed, and tears started flowing. The brusk, questioning client that walked in, became vulnerable and emotional. "What do I have to do to keep a place like this?" was her first question. She wanted to make sure there weren't requirements, like sobriety, or going to church where she didn't want to, or something like that. We explained that the rules we had were about safety and being a good neighbor, but that she had all of rights of any tenant in any apartment. She said, "You know I am poor, right?" We assured her, we knew she had no income, no benefits. (Her paperwork was processed.) And then she said "And you know I can't work- on my bad days the voices in my head..." We again assured her that we knew this. We stood by as she cried for a while, looking at the view, and finally collected herself and said, "OK, this is probably one of those model apartments, so let's go look at what I would really live in."

We explained “No, Sonya, this is it. If you like it, we can give you the key to this right here.”

And she smiled! Who knew Sonya could smile?

"This is my bed- this is my pillow?" She ran back into the bathroom. "This is my crapper?" she giggled.

Sonya giggled!

"I feel like this is the 'Price is Right" or something! "

It's amazing how a tough day for us turned out to be so rewarding. It was like a switch turned in Sonya’s head, and suddenly she loved everything. She loved the bedding (She was very impressed that the sheets were not white!) And everything was new- she noticed that the dishes weren't chipped and the towel was fluffy. She touched all the kitchen items. “I’m going to learn to cook finally.” We were seeing a Sonya that probably hadn't surfaced in years.

The two of us left Sonya in her apartment, and as soon as we were out of sight, we hugged each other and cried. As privileged as Sondra felt, we felt privileged too, for being part of that moment. The impact of a few household items is huge when you haven’t had any of them in years. These items set our newest residents up for success, providing them with what is needed, and it makes a home for them. Thank you for helping us help them.

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