This is a contributor-submitted Voices piece by Sabra Maisonet, a Lakeland local who has experienced homeless in the city. Sabra’s perspective is unique to her own experience, as anyone who faces homelessness has a different experience. Want to join the conversation? We invite you to write for us. Learn how to share your voice here.
When you think of homelessness, what comes to mind? Someone on the streets with dingy clothes? Someone who looks like they haven’t bathed in weeks? How about someone who always walks up to your car or outside the corner store asking for spare change? This is what some in our community may think homelessness is and what homelessness looks like. But homelessness can look very different. It can be a mother of three children that fell on hard times and had no support or anywhere to go.
I was that mother. My name is Sabra Maisonet and this is my story.
My homeless journey in Lakeland began in 2017. I used the little money I received monthly to pay for a motel room. My children attended the same schools that they were in prior to our mishap due to a program that assisted homeless families and helped children get back and forth to school. Soon, I was able to get a job at a local fast-food restaurant and I worked any shift they needed me to work.
During the time we were in the motel, our family suffered insurmountable losses, including my older sister and one-year-old godson. A week after these events, I was locked out of our motel room because our check didn’t clear in the bank until later that evening.
I can say that was the lowest point in life. I was not able to go to work because I had to call off so I could be there for my kids when they got off the school bus.
From that day, it took me two weeks to find a second job and I was grateful to have a close friend who would come and watch my kids while I was working. Sometimes my kids only saw me when I was changing clothes for the next job. I did this for a couple of more months until I was able to have enough income to prove that I can afford an apartment.
We moved into our apartment in 2017 and were able to keep up with it until the beginning of 2020 when COVID-19 hit. At that point, I lost everything all over again — including my job and our apartment. I had four dogs that couldn’t go to the shelter, and I couldn’t go to a shelter, because I didn’t want to risk the safety of my son. While he’s 19-years-old, he has autism, and he would have had to sleep where the other grown men slept. I didn’t want to put him through any potential safety issues with that.
During this time, we were able to sleep in our truck, stayed on couches, and hopped to different motels. We did this until mid-2020 before moving into our current residence with the help of Gospel Inc. While we moved in with nothing and slept on the floor for two weeks, we were just grateful for a roof over our heads, space for our dogs, and the fact that we were all still together.
When I was introduced to Gospel Inc and the Repurpose Art Studio, I didn’t know what to expect. I had my guard up and was disappointed in myself. I felt discouraged, defeated, and like I failed my children.
The staff at the Repurpose Art Studio were very understanding, nonjudgmental + genuine. I was able to join many of the organizations’ programs that were offered, and sooner than expected, and my life began to change. One of the programs was a sewing class, where I ended up learning the trade, completing a sewing internship, and was able to afford my current place, with the assistance of Gospel Inc.
All the hard work is not over though. I must keep on pushing, or as I say, P.U.S.H. (procrastination usually stops happiness) because without the staff at the Repurpose Art Studio or Gospel Inc, our community would still be biased as to what homelessness really looks like.
My family and I get through all our obstacles together and my children are the real warriors. They are why I am the mother I am today.
As an individual that’s been homeless, one thing I wish the Lakeland community could understand is that some homeless people are comfortable with their situation. They are only comfortable because it’s what is familiar. Regardless of how old or young, once a habit or routine is established, people in general usually stick to it. Things will only change when the homeless are ready for change.
I know people in the community might feel bad for the homeless and their situation because they can not relate to or even imagine the experience. This is an expected and normal emotion from people. We also must remember that the more we give the more we will enable. I’m not saying not to help — I’m not saying that at all.
Here’s something to think about: Every day for 10 days someone brings lunch in for you. On day 11, there was no lunch brought in for you, but your coworker brought in theirs. First, you would want to question why, as you’ve had it for the other 10 days. Then comes the excuse “Well if I would have known I could have brought my own lunch.” But in all actuality, a routine or habit was created that made you expect something, and the mistake of getting comfortable happened.
I say all of this to say — if we keep making it easy why would the homeless change? We as humans are creatures of habit and nature and change is scary for anyone. Change means something new and with something new comes the unknown and people don’t like the unknown.
I also believe that the City of Lakeland is doing enough for the homeless community at the moment, though a second Talbot House would be a great addition. What I’m envisioning with this is something a little bigger than the original building so there can be more beds to provide temporary shelter for that night needed.
Lakeland, thank you for reading our story. Remember, we as people can only change our situations. Help is already out there. We just have to help ourselves.