Ten — that’s how old I was when my family and I moved into Paducah Cooperative Ministry’s homeless shelter. On the day we arrived, I stayed in the car and wouldn’t come out for at least an hour. I just sat there and cried.

I was old enough to understand what was going on, but I didn’t know how to handle it. It was emotionally jarring for me because I wanted to think there was something I could have done to stop the situation, even though I knew that there really wasn’t.

My Experience Living in a Homeless Shelter

Living in a homeless shelter was a unique experience, to say the least. To a certain extent, it was like living in a dorm at college.

There were two families sharing everything at the shelter we moved into. You shared a kitchen, a bathroom, and a common area, though each family had its own bedroom.

In my family, it was myself, my mom, and my two little sisters. Each of us got a twin mattress on the floor.

We had to put most of our possessions in storage, but we brought some cooking utensils, pans, and a few plates and cups with us. There was no cable or internet — just an old tube TV with an antenna, which was good for news and weather. We were living with the bare essentials.

We were required to attend weekly meetings. The parents went into one room, and the children into another. People were assigned to watch over the kids — mentors essentially, including one who I believe was a child psychologist.

They were all volunteers that we could look up to and talk about things with. It was a pretty neat experience, and I became close to one of the volunteers, Don, through our mutual love of anything with an engine.

My family and I were there for almost three months, if my memory serves me correctly. We got to know the other families that we stayed with well. Some were good and some were bad. But we had to learn to get along with them, regardless of whether we liked them or not.

The experience wasn’t as bad as you would imagine. It wasn’t as if we were living in a tenement, but it wasn’t a life of luxury, either.

Living in a homeless shelter, we had a place to stay, heating, and air conditioning, as well food from its food bank. This gave us the chance to save up some money while we received help finding a permanent place to live.

We were also signed up for government programs to make living in poverty a bit more bearable and to help us get out of it.

The Challenges of Living in a Shelter

It was a difficult time for me, especially, being at the age when sleepovers with friends were common. Friends would ask to come over, and I would have to say no. But going to friend’s houses was like a vacation.

The biggest challenge of the homeless shelter, though, was actually getting into it. Most shelters in my home city and the surrounding area stay full. Unfortunately, this is the case across much of the United States, especially in more urban areas, where homelessness is a much larger problem. It’s also difficult to get into a shelter at all if you’re a single man, as many shelters only accept pregnant women or families with children.