“The food here and the community here has helped me preserve my dignity and spirit.” – Charlese

Soup Kitchen Stories: 2015

Voice of a Guest: Charlese

Homelessness can happen to anyone. Just ask 64 year old Charlese, who lived in the same Upper West Side apartment for almost 40 years, since before her marriage. Her husband owned a beauty salon which Charlese become the manager of, a position she held for 24 years. But when their marriage broke down, Charlese lost her job as well.

“Because I was his wife, I wasn’t able to get any unemployment benefits,” Charlese explains. “He moved out and I wasn’t able to manage the rent alone.”

Just as Charlese was forced to tap into her life savings, a new landlord increased her rent dramatically. Her only living family was her elderly father, too frail to support her. Without any income, Charlese was evicted in August, 2013 after she had depleted all her life savings.  Then next thing she knew, she found herself homeless, afraid and alone, sleeping in the Amtrak waiting room at Penn Station, or riding the subway. Without anyone else to turn to, she turned to the soup kitchen. She smiles as she recalls her first meal here.

“I remember the first day I came here, I felt so peaceful, I felt at home.”

Charlese has spent many days here, even during her father’s illness, when she cared for him despite her own challenges. She’s come here to grieve his recent passing and she lights up when she talks about him.”He was a veteran and a boxer – he taught me how to fight, in every sense of the word.”

Fighting is what Charlese is doing—to stay sane … to stay safe … and to get her life back. This spring she shared her story of homelessness and the hope she found at the soup kitchen at the annual spring fundraiser, From Farm to Tray. “I’m so grateful to everyone, especially the social services staff members who have given me hope at times when I literally felt like I couldn’t go on.”

Today, Charlese has secured a part time job at a call center and lives frugally with a friend to whom she pays rent. While she struggles to  to cover all of her expenses on low wages, she’s determined to never have to rely on a shelter. She says simply, “The food here and the community here has helped me preserve my dignity and spirit.”