Find a Place of Refuge

I remember that cold winter night like it was yesterday. I was in the relaxation studio, where I provided massages for the hotel guests. I looked over my thousand-dollar monthly invoice, and wondered if the repo man was going to snatch my car while I was sleeping. How could I get to a client’s home to provide a massage if I didn’t have a car? If they repossessed my car, not only would I still have to pay the debt for a car I didn’t have, I would also mess up my dad’s credit because he co-signed for me.

I thought about how embarrassed I would be if I didn’t pay the bill and they put me out of the hotel. For a brief moment, my mind even wandered to the day that I almost drove off a bridge to end the horrible feeling of anxiety boiling inside of me. So much was going through my head that night. I was desperate for relief.

I continued to look at my bills and compare them against the money I was bringing in, and it became as clear as day: I was broke. I had no money and no home. I had been fooling myself for a long time, but reality was finally kicking in. I was depressed and unable to function optimally because I was stressed to the max in every way possible. I was angry and there was no end in sight.

We do not see with our eyes, you know. The images before us are simply illusions our brain conjures up. Depending on our state of mind, backgrounds, beliefs, and feelings, what we think we see may not be what others see. The very complex computers known as our brains just spit out images based on our skewed perceptions. But there is one thing indisputable: numbers don’t lie. In the red is in the red, no matter how you look at it.

For several hours I contemplated, ranted, and raved in my head about my plight. In a brief moment of sanity, I read an email from a young lady named Kania whom I had never met before. She was telling me about a space for rent inside the Northwest Activities Center in Detroit. I had never even heard of that place. It didn’t have a website, but she seemed to think it would be perfect for my business and me.  I could cut my business expenses, and then I could move into low-cost housing and turn my car in while I got myself back on track, I thought. For that moment, I could see a little spark of hope, and I wanted to keep it in view for as long as I could.

In the days to follow, I was desperate to do as much as I could before my depression kicked in again. I researched the city’s northwest demographics, gathered my business paperwork, prepared a proposal for facility rental and looked for low-cost housing. My budget was about $250 per month. How in the world was I going to find decent, secure housing for that amount? Besides, my credit was jacked up and I was going to be without a car.  I could feel that I was quickly falling into depression again. My doctor had diagnosed me with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). This condition is a severe form of PMS found primarily in women over 35. It is marked by depression, anxiety, mood swings, and fatigue about a week before menstruation. I would begin to feel this uncontrollable rage building inside of me, so I cried. I couldn’t focus and wanted to sleep for at least a week while my depression passed through its most severe stage, which ended as my body’s cleansing began.

I had been fighting PMDD with prayer, meditation, and relaxation therapies, but with all the stuff going on in my life, my willpower and faith were on low. I had taken medication and received counseling before, but I was a holistic health professional, and medication was not my preferred remedy. I had to do something drastic right away. My sanity was at stake. In my retail career, one of my mentors taught me that when sales were below plan, you should cut those expenses that could be controlled to make sure you didn’t have to close stores or lay off employees. Control the controllables. That would be my plan.

That night while surfing the net, my search engine guided me to the Coalition on Temporary Shelter’s (COTS) website. I located the phone number and called that night, leaving a message that I needed emergency shelter. My day had been long and tedious, so I decided to take a hot lavender bath to help me sleep. My tears were my prayers because I could not come up with the right words to say. I remembered other times when my groans had been heard by God and doors opened.

I desperately needed that intercession again. I just wanted to sleep and be taken away from all the madness of this world.
A few days later, my call to the shelter was returned. I was told there wasn’t any space at Peggy’s Place, a facility for women and children within walking distance of my business. I was devastated, and went to Peggy’s Place in hopes of pleading my case. I tried to maintain my composure, but I could not hold back the tears. I was at wit’s end. I could not handle any more disappointment or bad news. Something had to give. I thank God for the person who reviewed my case and stamped it “approved.” I had already sold most of my possessions; everything I owned was in a few boxes in my hotel room. All I needed to do was pick them up and prepare to start over again. But first, I had to turn in my car.

It was December 2003. I walked up the front stairs into the lobby of the shelter, where a woman directed me to sign in. My body was shaking with fear. I had no idea what to expect. I had only seen shelters on television and in movies, and none of them looked like places I would want to live. She directed me up a flight of stairs and told me to turn right, and go to the end of the hallway. My room was the last door on the right. Room #205 would be my home for the next nine months.
This is an excerpt from “Thank God for the Shelter: Memoirs of a Homeless Healer” written by Versandra Kennebrew in 2008. Kennebrew a long-time contributor to Thrive Detroit Street Newspaper is also the newest member of the COTS (Coalition on Temporary Shelter) Board of Directors, as well as an empowerment coach and holistic health expert. She speaks all over the country inspiring people experiencing major life transitions to never give up. Her books can be found in transitional homes and shelters from Detroit to Hawaii.

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