New York City. Rachel. 6.19.17
Sadly our attention turned towards Rachel (29) when a delightful (note: sarcasm) purposely kicked her money basket. "I am a human too. Just like they are" she emphatically announced after we sat down next to her and asked her if we could have a few minutes of her time. Their actions "make me feel less than" she continued on as a clean cut, suited up gentleman made his way over to inform her that she had to move or he would be involving the police. Rachel explained to him that she had spoken to a police officer earlier that morning and that he told her she could remain where she was sitting; this fact did not appease the gentleman and, without hesitation, he made his way over to the police stationed across the street. In order not avoid confrontation, Rachel, myself, and Alex picked up her (limited) belongings and moved her from a shady spot with a breeze of air conditioning from and adjacent building, to a spot directly in the sunlight where the pavement scorched our thighs1.
Growing up in Albany, New York, Rachel bounced from foster home to foster home until the age of 17 when she was legally able to care for herself. At this point in time she was working two jobs and attending classes for phlebotomy; eventually moving into a house with her long term boyfriend and starting a joint business venture. The business was doing well, but as she soon learned, "well" wasn't good enough for her boyfriend. In an effort to make more money, Rachel's boyfriend had begun stealing and kept all stolen goods in their home. As she put it he became "greedy" and that greed led to a 20+ year sentence for him and a 6 month sentence for Rachel; a sentence that left her with nothing upon her release.
With nothing left and no real reason to stay in Albany, Rachel was more inclined to move to NYC and in with a man that she had began dating, albeit knowing him for years. Like most abusers, Rachel's new boyfriend romanticized the life they would lead; promising a wealth of opportunities and long sought after happiness. In reality, she became a prisoner in the new life she was so ready to begin. As Rachel put it, it is "amazing how people change behind closed doors"; and behind closed doors, change he did. All of those opportunities he promised became impossible when he would not allow her to leave the house without him. He had taken control of her life. Rachel had found herself in another kind of jail; but this one was one she could sneak out of and that is what she did. She packed up what little belongings he allowed her to have and snuck out of the house when he was not home.
Now in Manhattan, far enough from the Bronx (she hopes), Rachel lives out of one suitcase (of which was close to empty, as someone had recently stolen her clothing). She has no ID, because her abuser had taken it. Without an ID2 Rachel's options are limited and the options she does have (i.e: drop-in shelters) she describes as inhumane (Note: this is NOT the first time we have heard this.) Additional assistance (temporary housing etc.) is difficult to come by because of the amount of paperwork and stipulations attached. At one point she was promised a caseworker, but has yet to be contacted by one.
Rachel has been verbally harassed ("Why don't you just go get a job!), betrayed by those she thought were her friends, and has even been offered money for sexual favors; however her street smarts and unwavering mental strength is nothing short of inspiring. She has seen what can happen to someone when they have lost everything, however she refuses "to let the streets claim her." She is steadfast in her plan to raise enough money to get a train back to Albany ($60) and once there she will find a room for a few nights ($200) while she searches for work (hopefully at the tiny coffee shop that she simply adores). Until then? Well, that's easy. In her own words (because I can't do them or her attitude justice):
"I will wake up with a smile on my face, because I am happy with who I am" she continued "there is something great at the end of this."
1 As soon as we had come upon Rachel and she agreed to speak with us, a friend of hers stopped by for their "lunch date". Alexa and I let her know that we would watch her things so that she did not have to worry about them being stolen. We sat there with hundreds of people walking by us, ignoring us and have never felt so utterly helpless/worthless. I think we both agreed that it helped us to better understand what the individuals we speak to go through each day and the strength that it takes to get through it.
2 If you go to a church without an ID you can obtain a Soup Kitchen ID (only helpful for soup kitchens). You can also obtain a City ID; however, that is only helpful for the city that you are currently residing in.