When Bad Things Happen

JAMES SHEARER
Spare Change News

A couple of weeks ago, the editor received a letter from a reader about a story one of our vendors had written about herself. The letter was critical of the decisions this vendor, who is homeless by the way, made. Not only was he critical of her, but of all people in need. “ Must make good life choices, take responsibility for their own actions, or non-actions, work hard, pray, and last but not least, not waiting for someone to provide you with a house.”

Well, sir, let me tell you a story about what happens when those in need do all those things.

Last week I helped two very good friends of mine bury their child, my goddaughter. She was two months old. Her parents were overwhelmed with grief, questioning why this happened to them.

I know that kind of grief, having gone through it 18 years ago. But what’s even sadder about this is that all the hard work the parents did to correct their lives and take care of their child, Nicky and Randy’s story is not unlike anyone else’s, except they were both homeless.

Randy was a medical tech. You ask this kid anything when it comes to medicine or medical procedures, he knows it. Randy had a rough life, losing his mom at an early age, a lot of tragedy in his life, but he was determined not to let any of it bring him down. He studied, worked hard, and it all eventually paid off.

But he had developed a seizure disorder due to something that happened to him when he was a child, and he lost his job because of it. He went from doctor to doctor trying to find a cure. In the meantime, he drove a taxi to make ends meet, then he had a seizure behind the wheel, he lost his license. He worked odd jobs after that but depression set in, and it got to a point between that and his seizures that he couldn’t work, and he eventually became homeless.

Now no doubt the fellow who wrote that letter is saying to himself, didn’t he have family or friends to fall back on? Well, it may surprise you, sir, but most of us poor folk have pride, and Randy has it in spades. Still he wouldn’t give up, trying so hard to regain what he had lost, he went to a local shelter and that is where he met Nicky.

Nicky is a spirited girl, fiercely independent, stubborn to a fault, a strong woman who was raised a good Catholic, a faith she strongly believes in, the type of girl you would love to bring home to mom. She and her brother, whom I’d known for nearly 20 years, grew up in Dorchester. They had a good home. Nicky also had two older sisters whom she was very close to.

Nicky did all the right things growing up, she went to school, worked hard and said her prayers. She met and married a nice guy and had a beautiful little girl. She simply loved being a mom. “It gives me purpose,” she once told me.

When one of her sisters passed away at an early age Nicky took in her only son and raised him. But rough times came. No one really knows what happens when two people who love each other fall apart. Sometimes it just happens, and for Nicky it did. Things got rocky for Nicky, falling in with the wrong crowd, depression, losing another sister, things just added up. Thinking of her kids more than herself, she gave them up to the state Department of Children and Families until she could get the help she needed to get back on her feet.

She went into a shelter, where she met Randy. I don’t know what love at first sight is, but I know love when I see it, and when I met those two I saw it. They had been together for nearly a year when I first met them, and their love for each other kept them strong as they fought to get of the streets and put their lives back together.

Randy was on disability now, but he hated it and wanted desperately to get back to where he was before in the medical field. He was always helping out at the shelter whenever someone needed medical attention. Nicky kept busy with going to see her kids who were still in foster care, she worked little odd jobs here and there, and kept her faith strong. Just knowing that with a little hard work, God would reward her and Randy.

Then Nicky got pregnant, Yes, I know, Mr. Letter Writer, not the most responsible thing to do when one is living on the street. But things happens. Of course, Nicky, being Catholic, was going to carry and keep her child. Randy, being a stand-up guy, wanted to do the right thing and asked Nicky to marry him. She, of course, said yes; I proudly stood up for them as a witness. With all that had happened in my own life, it was good to be around two people who totally loved each other. They also asked me to be the godfather of their child, which I gratefully accepted.

Things were tough for them, though. They wanted to get an apartment together but rents were so high they couldn’t afford it. So they would have to get a Section 8 voucher or find low-income housing, both of which were hard to come by. So they started working with Homestart, an agency that helps homeless people find housing, but that too was going slowly and the baby wasn’t going to wait. They wanted to find something fast.

One suggestion they got was that they should try to get in some sort of program. One problem was that neither of them had substance abuse issues, and on top of that most programs would separate them. They didn’t want that. So they hung in at a local shelter, which although very supportive, couldn’t keep them once the baby was born.

Lilly Marie was born on Nov. 17. She was a cute bundle of joy. Mom and Dad were very happy, but that joy was to be short-lived.

The staff at the hospital knew that Randy and Nicky were homeless. They called in the hospital social worker who promptly told the new parents that because they were homeless, she would have to report them to DCF. They couldn’t believe it, neither could I. Why weren’t they trying to help them instead of getting their child taken away?

Then they were told that the other reason why they were being reported was because Nicky came up positive on her drug screen. What the dolts didn’t know until later was that what she had in her system was prescribed by a doctor.

Still, the baby was taken from them but they were allowed to see her on a weekly basis. They were told that as soon as they found a place they would get her back; that was easier said than done, as housing options were limited, the new state-run program HomeBase which houses families was all booked up and wasn’t taking new clients. They decided to move out to the North Shore, where I was living with friends. The shelter in Lynn was helpful, they were at least able to get some paperwork done, and get on some housing lists. Then they went to the Salem Mission.

Nicky started going to the career center, putting together a resume so she could get a better job. Randy had finally gotten doctors who got him on the right meds. He wanted to get his license back and start driving a taxi again and, he hoped, he would be able to go back to work as an EMT.

Things were looking up; they had even decided that if push came to shove they would go into separate transitional programs, anything to get Lilly back.

Just as all this hard work began to pay off, Lilly died suddenly. I cannot tell you how the two of them felt — hurt, angry, sad, betrayed by DCF, which promised them that Lilly would be all right. They were called unfit parents just because they were homeless. And yet my goddaughter died in DCF custody, you tell me who is unfit.

So see, Mr. Letter Writer, homeless people do work hard, take responsibility, and pray. Randy and Nicky did and still bad things happened to them. Why, should you care you ask? Because what happened to them could happen to anyone, me, you, anyone. It doesn’t matter what walk of life we come from, life is life.

JAMES SHEARER is a co-founder and board president of Spare Change News.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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