Saturday, June 15, 2024

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HomeLife In the BerkshiresHomeless in the...

Homeless in the Berkshires: One year later

Even though the folks at Construct tried to remain optimistic and right by my side, there were times I could see their optimism waiver, as it is a daunting task to find affordable housing in Berkshire County.

About a year ago, I shared with the readers of The Berkshire Edge my personal experience with being homeless in Berkshire County, a rural community known for wealth and prosperity. After living five months at Construct’s transitional living facility for the homeless, I was able to find my own apartment, a place I could finally call home. I found my apartment at a Construct property that serves low-income persons, providing affordable housing. My place is clean and well-maintained with awesome property managers and maintenance staff. In fact, it is the quietest place I’ve ever lived in! Every day, I say thank you. I do not take my apartment for granted. How could I?

In my article a year ago, I attempted to share how it feels to be homeless but fell short of truly being able to describe my ordeal—an experience I’d rather forget. Unfortunately, the scars of my ordeal still remain fresh from their original onset of three years or more of being homeless. Looking back, it was a frightening experience accompanied by emotional and physical pains that took over with a fierce intensity that still resonate today. Being homeless made me feel trapped, with no exit from an existence I wanted to run away from. I was locked out of a home I took for granted. The keys I had to access my home were permanently gone and so was a place that provided a safe and warm shelter as well as comfort with physical and emotional issues. Finally, being homeless provoked a feeling of powerlessness that had no boundaries!

The kitchen of Rita Dichele’s apartment. Photo: Rita Dichele

As such, I consider myself extremely lucky, as I got to live briefly (five months) at Construct’s transitional living facility, the staff of which helped me find housing. They also helped me get out of my financial crisis, teaching me how to budget and save money. In fact, I was able to save enough money for the three months’ rent needed to move into my current place.

However, at the risk of not sounding grateful, it seemed like an eternity living at Construct’s shelter. My stay was brief, but not without small sacrifices to endure in order to secure permanent housing. Living in a congregate setting with strangers of diverse backgrounds who were suffering from the trauma(s) that brought them to the point of homelessness created tension and discord within this living arrangement. It was difficult to say the least—an environment that was sometimes extremely unsettling, anxiety provoking and certainly unpleasant. Nevertheless, putting up with this was a lot better than living on the street and/or car. Many of my housemates, however, were sleeping in their cars, braving the diverse climates often found in New England before finding shelter at Construct’s Mahaiwe facility. Furthermore, those without cars had sought other means to get off the street, such as standing in nightly lines to get a cot found in urban centers. Fortunately, I never found myself without shelter. Truthfully, I do not know what would have happened to me without Construct’s help and support.

The dining area of Rita Dichele’s apartment. Photo: Rita Dichele

As I bring my story to an end, I’d like to share that, despite what may be considered a happy ending for me, I still remain in fear that I could become homeless again. In fact, looking back, I wish I had gotten cancer, as hard as that may seem to believe or even understand. However, when my mom had cancer, we were surrounded with hope and, after her treatment, a place to return to, a home that was secured with a roof and foundation, a place to live in private, and an environment that brought comfort to an otherwise difficult situation. When I was homeless, I often felt hopeless, as if there wasn’t a treatment plan. I did not see any signs of remission to a problem that seemed like it wasn’t going to ever end. Even though the folks at Construct tried to remain optimistic and right by my side, there were times I could see their optimism waiver, as it is a daunting task to find affordable housing in Berkshire County.

So in conclusion, yes, I am one of the lucky ones, no doubt! However, we need more affordable housing in our community, certainly for seniors who are placed on long waiting lists, making it seem impossible to get housing. We need affordable housing for families, couples and individuals seeking the opportunity to live in our community. However, persons not familiar with this problem that plagues our country nationally may be surprised to learn the problem exists in large numbers in Berkshire County, as well. There is data available that supports the fact homelessness in Massachusetts is increasing.

Rita Dichele at home. Photo: Rita Dichele

I didn’t provide you with these statistics and other background data that supports Construct’s efforts, as well as others’, regarding the need for affordable housing. What I did provide was an honest story from an average person’s account of being homeless in Berkshire County. Hopefully, my sharing of a very personal problem will enlighten you further as to the issue of homelessness. My story isn’t really unique among those of us who are or become homeless. Nevertheless, life continues, removing me further from the trauma of being homeless


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