Keeping the Past Alive

Piles of Star magazines. Spoons fed into the air-conditioning vent. Floral quilts as curtains for their bed bunks.

These are a few things found in the co-ed room 217 of the COSAC Homeless Shelter.

Ramona Montayne, 52, is one of the five residents in the co-ed room and she has lived in the same place for nine years.  During her time there, she’s accumulated things that show her personality.

She eats frozen dinners since she can’t eat a lot of the shelter’s food because of her poor health. Montayne has a stash of magazines waiting to be read. She keeps articles that she wrote for the Homeless Voice and pictures of her late fiancé on a white shelf in her room.

“He was the only guy who treated me right,” she said.

She holds on to the thought of her daughter and son—two things that are constant in her life, she said.

But Montayne is not the only one to find a home in the shelter and have a place that reflects her past and present.

The residents invite visitors to see pictures of their daughters, sons, fathers— their whole family. They are just as comfortable to let people wander into their rooms. It’s a glimpse into their personal lives that only other residents see.

Bill, who sleeps next to Montayne’s bunk, maintains a neat environment. His shirts and jeans are folded neatly and lay in a stack. The top of his bunk used to be his girlfriend’s, but she moved out. Montayne uses that bunk as her extra storage space for clothes and several boxes of toothpaste that she gives to new residents.

Richard “Richie” Mayfield, another roommate, sleeps in a bunk on the other side of the room. According to Montayne, Mayfield was there just as long as she was, though his bunk didn’t convey it.

Underneath his bed, there are jersey shirts and empty plastic bags. Unlike the other bunks, he has no curtain, no privacy; his sleeping form is there for all to see.

“But single people don’t usually use curtains,” Montayne chimed in.

Whether Mayfield refuses to acknowledge a past, or has a past he wants to remember, is unknown. For now, only his social security checks leave a paper trail of his past.

It might be easy for some to try and imagine how their courses of life could have been different. Maybe Montayne could have gone to college. Maybe she could have been closer to her family.

Director and Founder of the shelter, Sean Cononie hopes for the best for his clients.

“I think they need to have their connection with family, friends and good memories,” he said. “They should live like anybody else.”

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Dates of blog posts

September 2011
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