Her Name Is Ashley - She's Homeless

by Christina Rowsell
The Brighter Side

© Photo: Christina Rowsell
Her name is Ashley.

I met her in the parking lot.  I was coming out of Chapters.  My boys and I were looking for new books that they could enjoy and bring home. My youngest picked out yet another dinosaur book.  He has at least a hundred other dinosaur books at home. But, this one has a DVD movie that it comes with.  My oldest son is into chapter books.  He’s so much more advanced at reading than I was at his age.  He picked out a Star Wars book.  He’s so excited because it has 412 pages.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with 412 pages. Not when I was 8 years old that’s for sure.

As we were walking across the dark parking lot at 7:00 at night, a young woman came up to us and spoke in a very soft voice. “Excuse me,” she said politely. “I’m homeless and I’m looking for enough money so I can get a place to stay tonight.”

She stopped me right in my tracks. I walked my boys over to the side, out of the way from any traffic that might come up.  I asked her, reiterating what she just said, “You’re looking for money so you can have a place to stay tonight?” She replied, “Yes.”  I said, “What about the homeless shelter?” She came back with, “I usually get turned away from most shelters because I don’t have any children. I’ve been using the system to get on wait lists, but there’s a three-year list. If I go to the emergency shelter, they usually reserve spots for anyone who has been abused or have children.”

I started to look into her eyes.  I was trying to see if I could tell if she was telling the truth.  I asked her how old she was. “23,” she replied. She went on to say that several months ago she lost her job and that she has arthritis and scoliosis. She explained that it was difficult for her to find a job because of her health limitations. “I usually do office jobs, and it’s very difficult for me because of my arthritis.”

She has such a pretty face. She didn’t seem high or like she was 'on' anything. I trusted her. I opened my wallet and said to her, “Please use this money to get yourself some help and a place to stay. Use this money to help yourself.” Then I handed her $20. She gave me a simple, “Thank you.”

My boys and I then walked away. My youngest asked me, “Why is she homeless? Why don’t we just bring her home and help her.” I replied saying, “Well, we don’t really know her.  We don’t know much about her.” I went on to say, “You can’t always trust someone you meet on the street.” But those words made me feel sad.  I want to trust her and help her.  I can’t help but think of my brother who always came to me asking for help. My mind started to wonder, thinking about my brother who I lost almost 9 years ago now. There are days where I ask myself if I did enough to help my brother. And now I’m wondering if I did enough to help Ashley.

The boys and I got back into the car. The boys were buckled and wanted to hold onto their new books. So I took a moment to open our new books, take the stickers and wrapping off and hand them to the boys in the back. Just as I put the car in reverse and was looking backwards my youngest looked right at me and said, “There she is.” I turned around, and there was Ashley, right in front of my car. Partially pulled out of the parking spot, I put the car in park. I rolled down the window and in a polite voice she said, “Excuse me. I’m homeless and I’m looking for enough money so I can get a place to stay tonight.” She said it as if she never met me. She said it as if she said it a million times that day. I said to her, “Ashley it’s me. I just helped you and gave you $20.” She said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m blind in one eye.”

I took this time to learn a bit more.  She talked about the system and how she’s been trying to get help.  How she’s on waiting lists and how she can’t get much help because she’s young, no children and not in an abusive situation.  Pretty much that same conversation as we had before. I asked her if she tried welfare. Having been on welfare when I was 19, I know it’s not much, but it’s something.  She replied saying, “They won’t give it to me because I don’t have a home.  I need to have an address.” So I asked her if she had family? Without much emotion, like she’s told this story before too, she said her father has a drug addiction. She doesn’t have much of a relationship with her mother.  She dropped out of school when she was 14 and left home at the same time. I asked if she had any siblings. To which she replied, “I have two younger sisters. They live with my mother.” Still prying, I asked her if she thought about leaving Alberta, while the economy is so bad.  She said, “I’ve lived here my whole life, “But lots of people ask me if I’ve ever thought of going west.”

Realizing I was partially blocking traffic, I pulled forward. I looked Ashley in the eye and said to her, “I need you to know why I want to help you. I lost my brother. And he too went through some tough times, and I often wonder if I did enough to help him.” For the first time I saw a bit of emotion in her face. Not much, but enough to know that I’ve made a connection with this young lady. 

Now I want to know how I can find her again. In my mind, I want to make sure she’s okay, and want to check up on her. I asked her, “If I want to find you again, how can I do that? Where will you be?” She said, “Here. I’m here most of the time. Right now all I need is $15 more to get my place for the night.” I asked, “How do you get a place.” She answered, “I go on kijiji and find places that people rent for the night. I usually spend 8 hours a day here trying to get enough money for one night.” At this point I’m not about to ask her how she goes on kijiji. I open my wallet and give her another $20. This time her thank-you was heartfelt. She looked a little surprised. She was very grateful. It’s as though I felt a load lifted off her shoulders.

Looking over her attire I said to her, “You’re very lucky that the weather has been quite warm this winter.” She went on to tell me that it’s been pretty good. There was one woman who came back to her to give her a winter coat.  She said it was perfect timing because the next day it was -25. I suggested to her that she should take her hood off, so that she wouldn’t come across as hiding something. She said, “I can’t. My hair is so matted, I don’t want people to see that.” I asked, “Because you haven’t cleaned it?” She nodded. I also noticed that her gloves had a hole in the thumb. I then turned on my interior light. I had a winter headband in my center console. I’ve only warn it once. When the wind is strong I need to cover up my ears or I get a headache. I have 3 more at home. I gave it to her. She was extremely grateful. I said, I have some gloves too. She holds up her glove with the hole in it and says, “Yes, these ones are pretty worn.” I have a pair of gloves I keep in my car for those bitter days walking my boys to school. I gave them to her. Again, she’s grateful. Next, I look on the passenger seat and there’s some nacho chips. They’re my oldest sons chips. I ask him if I can give them to her. He says, “Sure.” I look out at her and ask her if she’s hungry and show her the chips. Her eyes light up and says, “Are you sure? Yes please.” I also had some chocolate Kit Kat bites and hand them to her. “Oh I like chocolate.”

I leave her with some last thoughts. “Stay strong. Know that you’ll be great. There’s so much for you to do in this world. Stay away from drugs. Stay away from bad men. Stay strong.” She smiles and says, “I will.”

She walks away into the parking lot of cars.  I will go back and check on her. But, what I want to know, is there more I can do?

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by Christina Rowsell ~
© Christina Rowsell
Radio Announcer, Magazine Editor, Blogger, Photographer, Mother, Wife, Sister, Daughter and... Part Time Cook (only when she has time). Looking for The Brighter Side of life sharing Good News, Great Ideas & Amazing People.  Sitting still is something Christina knows nothing about.  If you have a story to share feel free to contact Christina.  Follow on Twitter, @BrighterSideyyc @RadioChristina and LIKE on Facebook The Brighter Side and ChristinaRowsell.com.

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