“Writing” a Stereotype Wrong

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.

Kathy's Briarwood apartment, art table in foreground

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. 

Kathy, Briarwood community room, building A, 2005

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.


24 thoughts on ““Writing” a Stereotype Wrong

  1. Kathy, it’s so heartening to hear of your positive experience in a setting that for many people has negative connotaions. And this material, alone, would make a great book. I’m looking forward to more.


    • You know, it occurred to me last night that this could be a book in and of itself, as I read through some of the journals I kept at the time–cause truly I loved the place–really, really loved it. Glad you’re looking forward to more!


  2. Kathy, thank you for opening my eyes to the realities of the world. Home is home, no matter what kind of housing it is. I look forward to more stories as you “write” this wrong.


  3. Your words certainly paint a warm and welcoming picture of subsidized housing. I have to admit, I generally believe in the stereotype when I see or think of government housing. It is good to have the myth dispelled.


    • Yes, why wouldn’t you believe the stereotype–you have no other experience. But I promise it’s not always what the sterotype would have you believe. I’m so glad you are open to hearing other perspectives!


  4. I think your future posts on this will be illuminating to us all Kathy and I look forward to them. You could be right too that this could be a book in it’s own right – you have so much material, it’s fantastic. Love that idea that we can ‘write’ a stereotype wrong. Good for you!


  5. Pingback: Close Encounters with Well-Wigged Old Women and other Adventures in Government-Subsidized Housing | reinventing the event horizon

  6. Kathy,
    So fascinating. I believe whole heartedly in a social safety net, and am so happy that this one served you so well in a time of need. You are clearly so strong, this memoir you are creating is truly wonderful.
    Thanks for your kind words to me – they have been heard and are so helpful.


  7. I have not visited in a while, which is truly my loss. I started here because I like your title, and once again find your words speaking to me on oh so many levels. Having rarely lived in what one would call regular housing situations (at least as an adult), I can fully appreciate the power of stereotypes with respect to these situations. Yet a place like this will provide both lessons in community and good old earthy wisdom. I look forward to continuing the journey with you!


    • Thanks so much for stopping by! It’s great to hear from you, Steve! I would love to know more about the kinds of places you have lived in, what those no-so “regular housing situations” might have been like. I love stories about where people live, especially if those places have been out of the ordinary!

      Hope your week is going well! It’s always fun to hear from you. I love the way your mind works!


  8. My friend, Jeremy, lived in a similar setting after being diagnosed with cancer for a second time…although his place was tiny (way too small for his book/movie/antique collections), it was as you say…safe and inexpensive.



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