While “Boriqua” did give us her real name, she asked that we not publish it or her picture. Even though this is our PHOTO campaign, and there are no photos for “Boriqua’s” story, I felt it was so compelling that I had to share it so, the photo you see above is NOT “Boriqua”. Next time.
They were a small group, huddled in the doorway to a loan company on Travis Street, downtown. They accepted the food we offered and looked at us with pensive and watchful eyes. Two girls and two guys, arrayed in various states of recline appeared settled in for the evening. The temperature was in the high fifties, but only one of them (the youngest girl, in her 20’s) had a blanket. I sat down to talk and listen.
“Boriqua” A 30 year old woman from Puerto Rico, she came to the states with her family as a teenager and grew up in South Carolina. She has two kids, a 13 yr. old boy and a nine year old daughter; both live with her brother here in San Antonio.
“I wasn’t always homeless. I can remember seeing people that were on the streets and thinking to myself, ‘That is the one thing I never want to be. Homeless.’ I thought it was the worst thing in the world. I was right.” She was starting to relax around me, and as she did, the façade of careful toughness was starkly replaced by a far off look of shame, regret, and finally, abject despair. She mostly stared off into the distance as she talked, but every once in a while she met my gaze, and every time she did, she deposited a little of her sadness on my soul. It was all I could do to keep my own emotions in check as I listened to her story.
She had fallen in love with and married a man visiting from Mexico. She followed him back to Mexico, where they lived for almost five years. That was also where she kicked her addiction to crack cocaine. They eventually separated and she returned to the states to the only family she had left, her brother, here in San Antonio. She got a job, a place of her own and she and her kids were happy. She lived a normal life and, if you live here in San Antonio, you might have even known her. She remembers the exact day that changed.
December 16th, 2011. She got paid, finished Christmas shopping for her kids and went to a party some friends from work were having. There was drinking and a good time had by all, and then someone suggested something a little stronger. And, in the wee hours of the morning, she took her first hit of crack in four years.
It didn’t take long for it to reclaim its hold on her and everything she held dear. She lost her job, her apartment, and her kids taken by CPS and sent back to live with her brother while “Mommy works some things out” Within three months, she had burned her last bridge and found herself on the streets “December 16th, 2011; that was the day my worst fear came true, I just didn’t know it yet” Tears welled in the corners of her eyes, but did not fall. The pain in her face betrayed her and it was as if she had aged right before my very eyes. It was only through sheer force of will power that I maintained my own composure.
I asked her if she had a job, how she managed to survive. She said she did not as she lost her ID and was finding it difficult to get another. But “I don’t panhandle or beg. I don’t like being told no.” She looked down at her feet and wrung her hands in desperation, “I’ve been rejected enough in my life. I just want to feel better about myself” She finally looked up at me again “I go to the churches, they feed you and give you clothes [but] I’ve lost all faith in GOD.” She looked down again, almost as if she was ashamed of what she had just said. “I just wish somebody would take me by the hand and help me. I’m all alone.”
To find out how you can help “Boriqua” and others like her, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and click on the “Donate to A.D.” button to the right. Make a difference in someone’s life this holiday season.
This is Just The Beginning