I am a student at Columbia University. I used to know Cindy Stebbins as "the homeless woman outside Duane Reade." We had our first conversation in October 2016. On November 18th, Cindy was the first person I spoke to after someone had tried to attack me at 5 am. She had so much comfort and strength to offer me. It is difficult to explain how our bond become stronger over time, but every time we meet we hug and kiss and she calls me "mama" and asks me about school, my love life, my friends, my parents. Once, I shared a life-changing piece of good news in my life and Cindy hugged me and cried with happiness.
The only thing Cindy has ever asked me for is clothing; she said, "Don't spend your money on me, but ask around if your friends have any to spare." She has even given me gifts. When I talk to Cindy at length sometimes she comes close to the point of tears talking about how humiliated feels panhandling. Considering that she has been domestically abused multiple times, even by her own brother, living on the streets for three years, it is hard for her to keep fighting. She's told me that she has contemplated suicide many times. But she is a survivor and carries herself with dignity.
Three weeks ago, Cindy finally felt brave enough to tell me how to she became homeless. When she was in her twenties, she owned a construction business which she ran with her partner, also the father of her children. Unbeknownst to her, he had another family and was embezzling from their company to support his girlfriend and her children. Cindy didn't find out until the embezzlement got to the point that she had to file Chapter 11. Cindy lost her children to her unfaithful and abusive partner's sister and became homeless. She later ended up in an abusive relationship with a man who knocked her teeth out.
Cindy lost touch with her family; her children do not know she is homeless and since they grew up without her, they are not close to her. One Christmas, Cindy called home to wish her mother, who was a nurse, and found out that she had died of cancer and her daughter never had a chance to say goodbye.
It's very clear to me that Cindy is an intelligent and good person. She is currently working with the Department of Homeless Services to get off the streets but it is a long process.
Cindy now has a wonderful partner, John. They sleep in Morningside Park and John has had to defend himself and Cindy from assaults multiple times. They collect recycling to make cash and, living in unhygeinic conditions, the cuts on their hands from picking through trash get infected over and over. I've Cindy sitting on the sidewalk with a swollen, painful infection far too many times.
After she told me her story, crying, Cindy said, "All I need is a truck so I can start my business again, I can sleep in there." But I have bigger hopes for Cindy. I want to raise enough money for her to afford an apartment with her partner while she gets back on her feet. She talks about going back to school often.
Cindy just took a bus to visit her daughter, but when she returns on Monday, I am going to help her set up a prepaid debit card to collect funds. I helped Cindy pay for her bus ticket and she insisted on leaving her mp3 player with me so I would "trust" her to return the money. When I told her I trust her and don't even expect the money back, she rolled her eyes at me and said "I can't do that to you."
We will also pay a visit to her DHS case worker so that I can contact her with any questions donors might have.
I will post updates and hopefully videos of Cindy telling her story and sharing her experience on her journey to become self sufficient again.
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