“Being homeless… you are in this long, lonesome tunnel. Most days, you just want to be ignored. It’s embarrassing.”
Her words speak to the thoughtfulness of the woman behind them. But they also suggest an endless struggle to locate services and stay healthy as a single woman living on the streets. Originally from Arlington, Vanessa Bauer attended Wakefield High School and later went on to become a journalist. She had a place of her own and a career. Then life changed in an instant when Bauer, a veteran, was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. “I knew what was starting but I couldn’t stop it.” Ultimately, it left her unemployed and homeless.
The VA placed her in a homeless shelter in DC. She describes stays there as full of “drug addicts, hardcore mentally ill and criminals.” Yet her situation only marginally improved when she returned to Arlington three years ago. She slept on the floor since the shelter at the time did not have enough beds. Sharing a floor with men led to restless nights but it was better than the “open-air, Army-cot warehouses for the homeless” in DC. Days were just as challenging. She spent many of the coldest seeking warmth in restaurants or libraries.
Ms. Bauer returned to Arlington’s Shelter last Thanksgiving, and was “shocked” to find nursing services and a separate space for women. Even with the nurse’s care, it took nearly three months for her to recover from bronchitis and pneumonia. “I felt like I was going to give up because I was so sick. I would start to get better, and then all of us (at the shelter) re-infect each other because we spend our days on the streets.” On March 18, 2011, the shuffle through shelters and the struggle to get well ended for Vanessa Bauer. The apartment A-SPAN placed her in is a place to get well, and sleep soundly. A place to keep a computer, and rekindle a career. As she exits her “long, lonesome tunnel,” Ms. Bauer knows others step inside. Always the thoughtful journalist, she realizes the power of her words, and advocated for a year-round shelter at the Arlington County Budget Hearings in March.
(The client’s name has been changed for privacy)