I understand where the stereotypes come from, the ones that say government-subsidized housing is the black hole of shelter options, that filling out an application at the local housing authority is an event horizon beyond which one will never emerge regular renter, let alone home owner.
Yet, the problem with this stereotype, as with most others, is that they’re wrong—impressions formed in ignorance about issues most of us would rather ignore. And frankly—it was an impression I shared—that is until poverty and illness forced me into this option, a worst case scenario I’d been determined to avoid at any and all conceivable costs.
I’ve shared in a previous post the benefit of friendship I found via the housing authority in Dallas. However, the gifts I gained through government housing here in Kentucky were even more significant and life-changing.
The apartment complex I moved to in September of 2001 was designated Section 8, a kind of subsidized housing that shelters more than welfare moms. Some section 8 only accepts residents who are elderly or disabled. Briarwood Apartments in Lexington is one of these.
Briarwood boasts 4 white brick buildings, three stories a piece. Each has 51 one-bedroom apartments, its own library, laundry room, and lobby—as well as a community room where folks can socialize—a space residents can reserve for free, if they hope to host a family reunion or some other non-profit-making activity. I use the word “library” loosely, as these were actually called “craft rooms.” However, I never saw a single craft done in these spaces, and there were way more games and puzzles than books. Still the craft room/library was a quiet, air-conditioned place to read Harry Potter or Sylvia Plath on hot and humid summer afternoons.
But what matters most about Briarwood is that it became a kind of haven for me, a place from which I emerged 4 years later nearly whole and healthy.
I use the word “haven” here purposefully, as that’s exactly what the place was for me—one that sheltered and nurtured—a place I still think of fondly—one I would recommend to anyone needing an affordable and safe place to live, especially during difficult times.
It may have helped that I like old people—anyone aging who even remotely reminds me of my maternal grandmother—but then nobody ever really dislikes senior citizens, do they? I mean, there aren’t exactly a lot of knife-wielding geriatrics wrecking havoc at local nursing homes.
What I’m trying to say is that this was an easy group to get along with. No crime, no noise—not even any walker or wheelchair races in the hallways. If anything it was too quiet—a place where the biggest event of the day was the arrival of the mail carrier, who was greeted 6 mornings a week like a cancer-conquering hero—the bearer of tidings from the outside world. Clearly, this was not a demographic that emailed much or got their news, medical or otherwise, via smart phone—not a tweeting, googling kind of group, for the most part.
At any rate, I hope you’ll tune in over the next several weeks, when, among other things, I’ll share some highlights about my years at Briarwood, introduce you to some residents who changed my life for the better, and maybe even dispel some housing myths, some misunderstandings folks naturally have about a kind of home they only see stereotyped on TV.
The elderly and disabled may not consistently rock the world of social media, but, this little-blogged-about demographic deserves our attention, our willingness to share their stunning stories of wisdom, endurance, and daring.
Only then can we “write” a stereotype wrong.