When Charlene travelled from Oklahoma to Denver with her son, she did not imagine that she will eventually be left to fend for herself. Neither did she imagine that she would meet someone in the streets (Chris), whom she now calls her step son. Not bound by blood but through life circumstances, it was beautiful to watch the maternal selflessness that Charlene exhibited. This is their story:
'December 12th, 2009, I had a hemorrhagic stroke from a brain aneurysm. I was 29 years old. I was in a coma for 38 days. My life changed completely and it is still changing. It was traumatic. I was fine one day, and the next time I woke up, I was lying in the hospital, completely different. I am paralyzed on the left side of my body. I had to relearn how to do everything all over again… simple things like swallowing. Yup, I had to relearn how to swallow.
I am trying to get myself back to school. Before my injury happened, I was going to Colorado film school. So now, I am trying to get back into that and I am looking at returning in the Spring semester.'
‘I’ve been in Denver for 2 years. I was previously from Oklahoma and I came here with my eldest son. He walked out on me. People automatically assume that the only reason people are out on the streets is because they are either a drug addict or an alcoholic. Its not necessarily true. My son wanted to come to Denver. We came and he left me. I have 4 kids but I have not spoken to the 3 other kids. People seriously think we are either alcoholics or drug addicts. But its not the case. Its life circumstances. I’m really having a hard time making it (in life). Its difficult being out in the streets. It was difficult when I first started and it still is (difficult). It is very degrading. But I have faith in God. He provides.
When I get money, I buy things like soap and laundry detergent; simple things that you need for the home. I buy ramen noodles and I stock it up. That way, when I don’t have money, at least we have that. If I miss meals, I am okay with that but I don’t want Chris to go without food. I feel that providing for him and helping him is my purpose in life.
There was a 2-3 years waiting period for government housing and the only reason I managed to get in was because I met Chris and I became his roommate. Otherwise, I’d have to be on the streets for another year. Rent is $425. Electricity is very expensive. Chris makes $9 too much to receive food stamps. Chris makes $824 a month. I receive $700 from disability. I am on oxygen support as I have congestive heart failure and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). I have been on oxygen support since 2008. Thankfully, I have Medicaid and Medicare because the drugs are very expensive. I pay a monthly co-payment of $28.
I am 65 years old but hopefully Chris has a long way ahead of him. I hope that he will get well if he has the right support. Like I said, I am a good Christian and I pray to Jesus every night, and I feel like good things will happen. It will be in God’s time. It will not be in mine or Chris. It will be in God’s time. In the meantime, I am encouraging Chris to go back to school because that is what Chris truly wants. I’m looking forward to that and I want him to stay positive on his end. I’m going to keep encouraging him to do that. He is young. He can do this. He can wake up tomorrow… and God knows, he may be fine. I believe in that.'
When I asked how I could help, Charlene expressed that she needed essentials and a listening ear. I went to the dollar store and bought $15 worth of hygiene essentials; 8 rolls of toilet paper, shampoo, body wash, laundry detergent, body powder, shaving cream, a pair of tooth brush, toothpaste, a pack of razor, 3 pairs of women socks and 3 pairs of mens' socks. The point of exhibiting what is purchased is not to receive praise but rather, draw attention that a little monetary sacrifice would allow people like Charlene and Chris to be clean for the next month or more. Charlene's latter request was for us to not judge people on the streets but rather have a conversation and listen. My hope is that through these stories there will be more of us looking through a different lens of the underserved communities without judgement.