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Homeless Diaries - Emily's End

In the sullen chambers of the East End Cooperative Ministries in Pittsburgh, Pa. Emily's light danced among shadows. Once a cold void, an assembly for castaways, the sterile walls now bore witness to the unlikely union of two fractured souls. Emily, full of life at 22, hummed like a tender shoot embracing the wind. William, a stoic elder of 52, endured the weight of three decades more, rustling quietly beside her. They orbited, bound by a harmony that defied reason; a celestial dance where night met day. In the world's unforgiving eyes, Apathy encroached - a cruel force that sought to smother sparks in eternal night.

The East End Cooperative Ministries a haven, they hoped offered sanctuary. Yet, within its walls cold whispers echoed, cracks and chips blazed like neon signs against the stark grey backdrop. Ledgers full of lost lives whispered the tales of those who had wilted. Flutters of paper, bureaucratic vipers that slithered between fingers, consuming dreams and freedoms with relentless appetite. Flashes of steely false smiles, the wielders of these serpentine instruments scarred and policed every interaction. In this domain, the Bottom Line ruled supreme, bewitching its disciples to forsake humanity for its siren song.

A homeless shelter filled with desperate souls who broke no laws beyond abject poverty, now subject to pat down searches after meals to ensure that no one could smuggle the odd ham sandwich to their room, lights out at 10 pm, and having to secure a pass 2 day in advance before leaving the shelter, regulations that served no effective purpose than to remind the residence that they were not free people.

Yet, amidst these stormy seas, a life raft tethered Emily and William. She was a vibrant butterfly - shedding golden dust wherever she alighted, suffusing the air with laughter and confetti of conversations, and William, reserved and introspective, seemed a curious companion. Within him smoldered embers of a caring spirit, quiet and steadfast, shielding others from the gales of life. Together, they reveled in a profound bond, a rare stone existing in the cracks of tyranny and prejudice.

The shelter's eyes narrowed, the cogs of oppression spun ever tighter, judgments spoken in hushed whispers. How could such a friendship exist? Who was the father of her child? Surely, immorality must lurk beneath the surface. Society's cruel voice bellowed, echoing, calling to separate night and day.  Emily and William had left the shelter on separate passes. William donated blood plasma for a little extra spending money which he used to pay his cellphone bill, a lifeline to potential jobs and social services, and Emily used the freedom to visit her doctor to monitor her troubled pregnancy and to pick up a few needed things from the pharmacy. But their mistake was arriving back at the shelter at the same time.

Returned to the shelter's stronghold, they drew the ire of Jim, the prowling sentry who ushered order within its walls through oppression. Grasping to maintain control, his fingers reached for the key to Emily’s destruction. He held the power of final judgment over people whose only sins were poverty and illness. He was fond of telling the residents that if they didn’t like the way he treated them they could leave and go back to where they came from.  Back to domestic abuse, back to drug addiction and untreated mental illness, housing and food insecurity.  Jim had created a prison with no bars.

Emily was trapped behind closed doors as Jim's investigation probed for her secrets, the shelter administrator's questions pierced Emily's silence, seeking to wrench the truth of her unborn child's father from her trembling lips. The father was not William but the reason for Jim's intrusion into her privacy escaped her, and Emily's refused, to surrender to the relentless onslaught. Seizing the agency of her existence, Jim casts her into the abyss outside for refusing to answer his questions, with no preparation or warning, Emily is expelled with merciless haste, abandoned to the fate society had deemed fit for her.

Emily found herself in the cradle of the cruel, cold streets despair clutching at her soul, seeking to drag her further into desolation. And yet, a swell of compassion emanated from the residents of East End Cooperative Ministries. These seemingly barren souls, so impoverished in material wealth, were rich in empathy and humanity. Together, they amassed their meager resources to secure a reprieve for Emily in the form of a modest hotel room.

While Emily found a safe place to sleep for a few nights with the help of her friends William struggled to find justice for her.  But his anguished phone calls and emails to elected officials, agencies, and news outlets fell on unconcerned ears. The story of a young pregnant woman being expelled from a homeless shelter in her 8th month of troubled pregnancy and impoverished homeless people putting their money together to find her safe housing was not a story that they found interesting enough for their readers or a constituency important enough to aid. Two days later Emily was admitted to a hospital with problems with her pregnancy and Emily and William lost touch. But this is not the end of their story.

In this cold, gray dominion, Emily and William's tale is a whispered yet poignant hymn to the strings of human connection. Their hearts, although invisible to society's concerns, bound for a brief sojourn, defied the weighted morality of a culture quick to cast stones. Rising above the squalor, they held tight to the elusive yearning for dignity that walked hand in hand with justice. Their story, though fragile, is a testament to the resilience of hope in the darkest of nights, a small victory against the unforgiving cloak of apathy.

This story unfolded in the summer of 2020 during the pandemic. It is unknown if Jim is still employed at EECM or if the same policies are in place.  EECM has not returned this journalist's request for comments.

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