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“We want to get the children as early as possible. Homeless families are extremely stressed. Often they don’t know what’s coming next. They’re terrified. And that sort of lifestyle doesn’t leave much room for comfort and pleasure and fun. We want to give children a place to be children. And we want to provide their parents with a place to enjoy their children in simple ways: blow bubbles with them, kiss them on the feet, help them put some jam on their toast. While we watch the children, we provide the parents with parenting groups, computer skills, and English classes.”
“I began as an accidental witness. I was running a preschool program, and I went to Church Street for some bureaucratic thing — I needed a piece of paper. And I just happened to walk in the wrong door. And in that room I saw homeless families waiting to be processed. Some were sleeping on plastic chairs. There were babies sleeping on bare mattresses. Some didn’t have diapers. I ran to the store and bought bread, peanut butter, and apple juice for everyone. Then I used the three quarters left in my pocket to call The New York Times and The Red Cross. Ever since then, I’ve been an advocate for the homeless.”
“Just the other day, I was walking down 116th Street when a big, handsome man walked up and gave me a hug. I’d first met him when he was 7. He was the oldest brother in a family of four who were housed in a nearby shelter. When he came to us, his father had just committed suicide by drinking Clorox in Central Park. His father had been mentally ill, and before he killed himself, he had told the boy that he’d kill him too. So the boy kept having dreams. He kept dreaming that his father was Uncle Scar, and he was coming to kill him. He became obsessed with The Lion King. He stopped going to school. He stopped looking at people. When you approached him, you couldn’t move too quickly, or he’d be terrified. But we started working with him, and he started to improve. We discovered that he was an ace at math. And all these years later, I just ran into him on the street. He was 6 foot 5’ and buttoned up in a suit! He seemed very happy and has a great job at an embassy now.”
“I met my husband here while I was visiting as a tourist, and decided to stay in America. I had my children here. I couldn’t bring my children back to Mexico, because my husband is from Honduras, and my family would be torn apart. So I went back and forth on my tourist visa while my children were growing up, but recently something happened. Immigration noticed that I’d been spending too much time in New York, and they refused to let me enter. So I had to cross illegally. It took us twelve days to walk across the border. We walked through the mountains. Every day, four of us would share a can of tuna and some crackers. Now that I’m here, I don’t know what to do. I can’t get a job. I can’t get services. I’m afraid at any minute they will find me and take me from my children.”
“In the early 90’s, we had a brownstone on 91st street where we cared for homeless babies that were HIV positive. In the backyard there was a mural that showed a flock of doves escaping from a cage. Every time one of the babies passed away, we’d paint their name beneath one of the doves. Most of the babies died. But a few of them lived. And Eric is one of the ones who did.”
“After my mother died, the four of us bounced around in foster care. Luckily we were all able to stay together. After several years of moving around, we eventually found a permanent home. Our new parents were Fidia and Luis Figuereo. I remember the first day we arrived at their house. They were cooking up a storm. I can remember exactly what they were making: rice, yellow beans, and steak. At that point I assumed that it would just be another foster home, but we soon became a family. The Figuereo’s had two kids of their own, so there were six of us total. All the girls were in one room and all the boys were in another room.
“Do you remember the moment you began to see them as your family?”
“I do. I got in trouble at school one day because I wouldn’t take off my hoodie in class. And I remember Fidia showed up, and I thought: ‘Oh crap. Here comes Mom.’”
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