Melissa’s Story: “We’re all diamonds”

by Oct 27, 2023

“I was a nervous wreck when I got [to the Safe Rest Village] but Jen from Portland Street Medicine held my hand while I did the intake,” Melissa said. She was scared to give up her motorhome– the only home she’d known during the last few years of experiencing homelessness. “Just to give that all up to go someplace that might not work. I was terrified of that being the case and not willing to take the chance. Portland Street Medicine walked me through it and that’s what I needed.”

Melissa moved to the Safe Rest Village in the summer and spent the hot days in her air-conditioned tiny house. Now with heat, insulation and access to clean water, her recovery is possible so that she can be ready for the next surgery. She believes that Portland Street Medicine went above and beyond to support her and is deeply thankful for their outreach.

Melissa’s next goal is to find permanent housing. She has been trying to get housed for six years; her trauma and struggles have changed her in many ways.

“People have to change,” Melissa said, speaking about those who have been chronically unhoused for years. “You don’t have a choice when you’re out there. You either change and adapt to the environment you’re in or you’re going to die.”

Melissa doesn’t talk to many people at the Safe Rest Village– years on the streets have made it hard to trust new people. She keeps to herself, although she speaks up when she needs help. She is waiting and harboring hope for the future.

“You get into that survival mode,” Melissa said, speaking about what it’s like to live outside. “How long, how long can you live in that survival mode before there’s no going back? I still ask myself that because I don’t want to keep being this person that I’ve had to make myself be just to survive.”

Survival for Melissa now means using her bicycle to get around, getting used to a new part of the city, setting realistic goals for being housed and seeing staff from Portland Street Medicine about every two weeks. She tries not to have them come out so much because she knows they have a limited budget and other people may need their support even more than she does.

“I see some people who’ve been living outside for ten or fifteen years and they’ll tell you, ‘This is who I am now’. I’m not willing to accept that. But at what point is it no longer just being in survival mode but this is who you are?” Melissa asked with tears on her face.

Now that she is in safer housing, Melissa looks forward to positive changes. She reads every article about funding and homelessness.

Melissa said that she’s planning on changing her name officially when she gets into stable, permanent housing.. “That person’s dead and gone. That’s not me any more. Changing my name shows how important it is to me that that is not me anymore. Those are two different people.”

She wants people to know that every person experiencing homelessness is different and their stories might not be what people expect. Many folks believe people are homeless because of drugs and alcohol but that often doesn’t come into play until they are unhoused– instead, people tend to use alcohol to keep warm and drugs to stay awake and safe at night. Those experiencing homelessness are just trying to survive and stay safe.

“We’re all diamonds,” Melissa said. “The most perfect of diamonds goes through the biggest pressure. At the end of the day diamonds don’t start out perfect, they start out as a piece of dirt. They go through pressure and crushing and come out brilliant. That’s the way I like to look at it.”

This story was written by Ellen Clarke, HereTogether’s volunteer storyteller, with support from Jennifer Langston at Portland Street Medicine. Jennifer is also on the board of Transition Projects and was an early drafter of the Supportive Housing Services measure. Her own story of experiencing homelessness helps her in her work at Portland Street Medicine. This story was originally published on HereTogether’s Medium.

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