The September 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

Police Raids on Fresno Homeless

Memorial to Mary Who Died

New Orleans After Katrina

Troubles for the Berkeley Housing Authority

Link Between Foster Care and Homelessness

An Epidemic of Rising Poverty

Angel Behind Prison Bars

Blaming Street People for Cody's Demise

MASC Storage Lockers Offer New Help

Interview with Osha Neumann, Artist/Attorney

Resisting Unjust CEO Pay Rates

Liberation from Hell of Addiction

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Social Change

Sept. Poetry of the Streets

Review of Jan Steckel's Poems


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November 2005

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April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

 

 

 


Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

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The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

A Woman's Liberation from Addiction and Homelessness

by Lydia Gans

Nurturing and protecting the children of the future. Art by Tiffany Sankary

C.C. says movingly, "I wanted to save my little child's life." She succeeded and her young son is now in middle school and doing well. But it wasn't all smooth sailing.

She got a bad start in life, growing up in a house with drug trafficking and everything that goes with it. C.C.'s mother was in an abusive relationship and she had only an older sister to look to for support. Her sister got caught up in it too, but C.C. says, she "straightened up, started going to church and stopped this crazy madness long before I did."

It took C.C. many years of "running up and down the streets," as she refers to her time of being homeless, doing drugs and alcohol and getting into trouble; but now she is celebrating ten years of being clean and sober. And her two sons are as proud of her as she is of them.

C.C. knows she is not unique in the life she has led, in the hurt she has done to herself and to others in the long battle with addiction. Now an important element in her healing is being able to share her story with other women like her and helping them come through it to a healthier life. She believes that telling her story to people who have never experienced this might help the public understand and society find ways to deal with the problems of addiction and abuse.

Having been an addict on the streets in the past and now working to help others, she is determined to tell her story. But to protect her sons and herself, she chooses not to reveal her full name.

An attractive 40-year-old, she's one of those women who manages to look stylishly dressed, even on a meager budget. When we met in downtown Oakland, she wore a simple beige suit and white blouse, and narrow-heeled shoes (which she admitted hurt her feet a bit). She had rings on her fingers, but nothing flashy, and she confided that none cost over thirty dollars. Brimming with energy, her talk is frequently punctuated with exclamation marks.

We got together at Burger King where the workers were okay with us occupying a table for an hour and a half. C.C. had once had a job there. She had also worked at other nearby establishments, including Sears, Wendy's, and Goodwill, and made friends with numerous people who populate Oakland's civic center neighborhood.

As people walked by and greeted her, she grew expansive. "I have a lot of friends and a lot of associates, that's my M.O. -- Miss Popularity." She says it once more for emphasis. "I know everybody in Oakland and Berkeley!"

She calls out to a man and tells me that she got to know him in People's Park when she was homeless. Parenthetically, she talked about how much People's Park means to her. She still goes there when there are concerts. When she was desperately poor, the freebox provided clothes for her and her little boy.

C.C. doesn't say much about the years of addiction, years of "running up and down the streets." There were bad times and worse times: homelessness, trouble with the law and an assault which left her permanently disabled with a bone disorder which still causes her considerable pain.

She also had a son who, she smiles, "was a miracle baby." That was 23 years ago and she hadn't started using any hard drugs when she was pregnant with him. His father and other family members helped raise him and he now has a full-time job and a serious girlfriend and a loving relationship with his mother.

An arrest got her three years of probation and motivated her to try to get clean. "I felt the need to put myself in a couple of recovery homes," she says. "I had been in Turning Point Recovery Home - that's a good one - for two months; that's when they told me I was pregnant. I went up and down the streets some more and put myself into Hayward Full Gospel ministries on West 89th Street which is another good recovery home."

She says movingly, "I wanted to save my little child's life." She succeeded and her younger son, now 11, is in middle school and doing well. But it wasn't all smooth sailing.

"I messed up one last time," she says. "I went out on my last one. I had twenty dollars in my pocket, came to Oakland and did not return back to the home till the next day." Somehow, Child Protective Services got involved. "They took the baby away and gave him to my sister who was more stable," she says. Looking back on that time, she concluded that her family had called Child Protective Services thinking "they could stop me from doing what I was doing. They didn't know that would be my turning point."

She went through another stay in a rehab facility, Chrysalis Recovery Home on West McArthur in Oakland, before she could regain custody of her little boy. She graduated successfully and moved into transitional housing at the Berkeley Food and Housing Project's shelter on Dwight Way. At the time, the shelter could not accommodate families, so her boys could only visit and occasionally stay overnight.

Since then, the Dwight Way building has added a third story to provide transitional housing for families. C.C. recalls with justifiable pride that she had something to do with making that happen. "I went to a meeting in Berkeley and talked to some big people. I told my story and they got the funding."

She stayed at the transitional shelter until her Shelter Plus Care voucher came through, making it possible for her to get a place of her own. C.C. grows animated as she recalls her case manager, Deloris Ellis, and the other counselors at the shelter. "Those ladies physically moved me into my first apartment that I ever had!" She was then in her early thirties. "My first apartment I ever had in my whole life," she repeats, still with a sense of awe.

Finally she could provide a stable home for her little son; she enrolled him in Franklin elementary school, just around the corner from their apartment. She began to volunteer at the school, helping in the after-school program and setting up parents' meetings. Her son graduated from Franklin elementary last August and they moved to Hayward. It is a nice apartment with rooms for both her sons.

Nevertheless, the move to Hayward is a sad commentary on the state of the Oakland school system. There was no middle school near their apartment. C.C. doesn't drive because of her disability and there is no transportation to any distant school. She is angry about what is happening in Oakland. "They keep closing the schools! They need to stop that!"

C.C. still volunteers at Franklin elementary school. She has "built a bond," she says, with the principal and some of her coworkers there. She is also active with Narcotics Anonymous; at present, she has one sponsor and sponsors four others herself.

Her voice rises again as she tells me about the success of one woman she sponsored whose graduation from Options Recovery she helped celebrate. "She came over and gave me the biggest hug because she did not need me any more!"

Describing another woman she is sponsoring, C.C. says, "She's a 55-year-old lady, she has an illness, she feels she's overweight. I'm going to help her with that, take her to the Berkeley Y with me." She declares, "I love my sisters. I'm her sister, I'm her sponsor, I'm also her friend."

C.C. has been ten years clean and sober but is still not out of the woods. She has had help from psychotherapists at the city mental health departments and is now seeing a therapist at Catholic Charities, just for "daily things I'm going through. It's good to have a lady to talk to."

She is working with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to get into a full-time job. Her long-term goal is to work with children, take in foster children or possibly run a day care center.

C.C. tells me she is getting her record cleared through a valuable program called Alameda County Clean Slate Clinic that helps people clear their record so they can get back into the mainstream. "Please let people know," she urges. It is located at 661 Washington Street in Oakland.

Taking care of her young son and looking after her friends' children, encouraging other people struggling with addictions, and preparing herself for a regular job are keeping her very busy. Her story sounds like a success story. But, she says emphatically, "I am not recovered. I am still recovering!"


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