The Disparity Around Derby and Why I’m Crying.
This morning I volunteered at a women’s and children’s homeless shelter. (Yes, children are homeless in this beautiful city we live in). On my way there I was feeling particularly fired up. Yesterday’s news of the overturn of Roe V Wade took my down a mental spiral of thinking about women who suffer.
The particular shelter that I work in functions out of a basement of a church and sits across the street from a new and beautiful hotel. When I got there, a woman who I have seen weekly since I started was asleep on a bean bag that the shelter allowed her to use. She was tired and weary from what I can assume was a night of little sleep on the streets of our city.
I’m usually emotionally tough around these situations. In my ten years of experience working in community mental health I have seen the lows of what this life can do to a person. But sleep? Well, it’s something that I value so much. It’s the number one component to the stabilization of my mental health. Sleep is a right not a privilege. And it’s one of the only things that we cannot provide the women we serve from this shelter.
We have underwear, hand sanitizer, batteries for their flashlights, ponchos for the rain, new backpacks for them to carry their few belongings in once theirs get too soaked or covered in holes. We offer an address so that they can get mail or apply for things like health insurance, birth certificates, and more. We offer snacks, baby wipes, and even toys for the children who come in with their mothers after a night on the street. (And by “we” I mean them. The social workers, the people who started the shelter, the passionate women behind the scenes. I am just a mere volunteer that has the privilege of coming and going as I please).
But what we don’t have for these women and children is a safe and clean place to sleep for an entire night. A home. We have no home for them.
What stuck out this particular morning was the fifty or so men and women across the street waiting outside for their party bus to drive them to the track this Derby season. There were fascinators, and adorable dresses, men in bowties and sear-sucker (I guess this is a still a fashion thing?). There were high heels and expensive bags filled with dollars that were going to be thrown around all day on drinks and betting. Drinks and betting. Dollars that would be spent on nothing.
These beautiful and excited men and women will come back here tonight and sleep in the soft fancy high thread count sheets. The sleep might be interrupted by a headache and dry mouth as the drinks wear off and the hangover sets in. They might wake up at 4am and toss and turn or even puke in the clean toilet.
The homeless woman might be puking too. I don’t know if she uses any substances. But if she does, I bet that her use would be considered gross and shameful while the girl in the white romper and pink heels is just for fun.
I’ve been the girl in the cute romper at the track on Derby week. I actually wish I had plans to go this year. The excitement and joy around Derby season here in Louisville is unmatched to any other holiday. It’s a joyous time of year with spring finally blooming and summer right around the corner. A reason to dress up, a time with family and friends, even a vacation for some. A long awaited escape from their reality of work and life. Everyone deserves to feel joy.
It wasn’t any fault of the people boarding that party bus that the woman in the shelter was tired. None at all. And yet, the disparity was just so vast. I was just standing there looking at these two sets of women literally across the street from one another. One group, rich with community, enough money, clothes, drinks and the other group hungry, isolated, and cold. How is it possible that we have some people who have enough that they can throw it away on drinks and bets while others who have none? How is it we think drinking and partying is so fun and cute on some women and disgusting and wrong for others?
There is enough to go around. There is enough for the women who want to party on Derby week to go out and buy the best outfits and hats AND there is enough for homeless women and children to have places to sleep at night. Why is it that we just can’t get there? Why is it that our government spends its time in fancy courtrooms overturning laws while children sleep on the street? Why aren’t the people who care about pro life standing outside of this shelter while marching and holding signs every day to ensure that these lives are valued and laws go into place to protect them? Why are we fucking this whole thing up?
As usual, I have no answers. I just have pain and frustration. I am connected to these women. They are my community, my sisters, my fellow mothers. I’m not better or smarter than them. The only difference is the luxury of walking away and re entering back into my life that doesn’t include eating out of the trash or having to ask strangers to get my child a jacket.
Maybe we start with acknowledgement. We feel how much this sucks. I can write about it, not to ruin your day/cause any guilt/or be Debbie downer, but to bring awareness. If we first see these women then maybe we can start to change their future. It’s when we turn away and board the bus without allowing ourselves to feel a moment of empathy or pain for the suffering of others that things start to go awry. When we don’t let ourselves see these things it’s easy to pretend that they don’t exist. That there is no disparity and rather just choices that people make. Some lucky and others not so much.
No one likes to feel sadness or pain. But I wonder if we just allowed it to move through us if we might find the answers to these problems? If instead of pushing away the pain with blame, judgement, anger, fear, assumptions, and justifications for why someone is in the horrible shape they’re in could we just look the awfulness right in the face and feel the hurt and discomfort? Would it change us and then in turn change the world?