Maria was born in Santa Cruz, California, on September the 13th. It just so happened to be a Friday. Fortunately, she isn’t superstitious. She graduated high school in Watsonville, served three years in the Army Reserve and eventually went on to become a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA). She did it on her own. “I’ve been emancipated since I was 16. I’ve been my own boss.”
She moved to Loveland via Texas in 2002, working in her field and also at JBS Swift & Company in Greeley. A back injury changed that, and she ended up on disability (SSDI). “I don’t like it, but they won’t let me work anymore.” She became homeless and started living on and off the streets of Fort Collins and Loveland since 2003. She has received assistance from fellow veterans, who helped her get into a shelter in Fort Collins through Catholic Charities. “The vets are the ones who got me in there. Lots of vets are homeless.”
When asked about her military service, she says, “I did basic (training) at Fort Jackson in (Columbia) South Carolina, and then went on to Georgia. I met George Foreman there, and his wife. I got a limo ride with them back to base.” The memory brings a smile.
She eventually was able to secure housing in Loveland through the Loveland Housing Authority, in part because of her military service. “They considered my three years in the reserve to be ‘training.’ I don’t know how that works. I eventually got a (housing) voucher, but it took five years.”
When asked about her experience living on the streets in Loveland, she says, “It’s rougher in Loveland than it was in Santa Cruz. The last five years have been the worst, for homeless people and all the drugs. But alcohol is the number one problem. Then drugs. Then harassment by the police. They just take you and put you in jail, then release you, but you’re still homeless. The judge gives you a fine and you have to figure out how you’re going to get the money to pay for it. It doesn’t help any.”
“There are a lot of people with mental illness out there. Alcoholism is an illness, but there are sober people out there too. They just need help.” If she could make a wish to help Loveland’s homeless population, she says it would be “to have some place where they can go, take a shower and have a place to stay, outside of town, where they won’t be harassed by the cops. The police can be nice. There are a few that will give me a ride to Labor Ready, but it seems like they want us out of downtown. It’s hard to find a place to sleep out there.”
Finding a meal seems to be less of a problem, and Maria mentions the various non-profit and faith-based services, such as the Community Kitchen, 137 Shelter, as well as Front Porch and Disciples Ministries. There are places to get out of the weather during the day, also. “I like the library. It’s a good place to hang out. You can use the computers to look for work or housing. They even have a fireplace in the back in the winter. I like it there.”
“I just wish the best for everybody. But people have to want to help themselves. There needs to be counseling available. I say just keep your head up and believe in him (looking up). No matter where you are, you know he’s always with you. That’s how I walk.”