In Search of a Home

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PHOTO BY PATRICK MICHELS
Kitty Parish

Kitty Parish lost her job at a medical billing company in early 2011. A few months later she became homeless. She stayed with friends and family for six months before resorting to the streets. This spring, she moved into the Salvation Army shelter in Austin. Parish, 60, now considers the shelter her home.

“Most women that are homeless are not here because they choose to be. Every woman has a different circumstance … physical abuse, mental abuse, financial situations—I mean, there’s a whole realm of reasons that women are homeless.

“Where you stay and the people that you meet—you have to be extremely careful. I mean, you can’t just go sit under a bush all night. You’ve got to find someplace safe. And if you’re not of the homeless community, or you don’t know about the homeless community—like I didn’t know anything about the homeless community—and you come down here, where are you going to stay, what are you going to do? So you just walk around all night and look for a safe bench to sit on until daylight comes. It’s really scary. I always tried to stay at the mall as late as I could, or at the bus station, or anywhere that was lit, you know, a public place.

“You can only extend your visit with family and friends so long. It’s different when you have no job, you have no car. You can’t do anything and you’re living with someone, but you’re in their way. No matter how much you try to help or work with them, you’re in their way. Basically you’re invading their private home. So you can stay there for a little while but you can’t stay there forever … My kids are here, but they’re on their own and they have families of their own and, you know, I don’t want to go live with them … They don’t like it that I’m homeless, but just like I told them, they’re trying to get their lives together, and you don’t want Mom living with you. I don’t want to be a burden to my kids.

“I’m actively looking for work. I’m trying to get a job so I can get my own place and move on. But the problem is my age. I’ll be 61 in December.

“I just look at it like, I’m here for a reason. God put me in this situation for a reason. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m here because He wants me to be here right now, here at this particular time. And I’m going to trust Him to get me out of it.

“I don’t even contact friends anymore because I am embarrassed. They don’t know the scope of the situation. That was another life—they were very affluent people. They live in that world where ‘it just can’t happen to me’. And it can happen, it did happen. But I don’t want them to know where I am.

“[When you’re on the street] you don’t eat right, you can’t sleep—you know, when you do sleep it’s just naps here and there. I can’t tell anyone how grateful I am that the Salvation Army is here, because I honestly don’t know what would have happened to me had I not gotten a bed in this shelter. That’s just the long and short of it. Because I’m not cut out to be out on the street.”