Let me introduce you to my friend, Angie.
I met Angie in 2017, when I first started working with the homeless for the city of Salisbury.
She was a spitfire, standing maybe 5 feet 2 inches, but talked like she was 6-foot-5.
She had my heart from the beginning.
She told me about the horrendous circumstances that landed her in foster care at age 3. She told me how she left foster care on her own as a young teen. She told me at 16 she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, and at 17 gave birth to a son.
She told me about the people she grew up with, and her foster parents who became adoptive parents.
She made me open up my Facebook account to search for her children. She showed them off so proudly.
I sat with her in a hospital room, after she reported being raped. I stayed with her until the Safe Nurse came, and went right back in the room when she was done. I then took her to the District Court Commissioner to obtain a protective order.
I helped her get into housing, where she stayed about 2 years. I gave her furniture. Bought her towels, a shower curtain, a mop and broom, other housewares and a bunch of food that day.
She left housing on her own. Sometimes that happens, as once you’re used to living outside, it’s hard to adjust to anything else.
I sat with her through countless doctor’s visits and tests, and would bribe her every time with soft tacos from Taco Bell. They were her favorite. You see, she HATED needles of any kind. But would tolerate it with the promise of tacos.
She once ate an entire 12-pack all by herself!
She was allergic to Bactrim, and made me tell every doctor because she could never remember what she was allergic to.
She was hellfire and brimstone to any police officer she met, well, except Aaron “Bull” Hudson and Officer Candice Schwemlein. She told me they didn’t make ‘em like Bull anymore. But that Candice wasn’t like the other cops. She was always nice to her. I have already thanked Candice for always having empathy and compassion for Angie.
I tried changing her mind about police in general; but she wasn’t having it. She was as hard-headed as they come, likely as hard-headed as me. And damn … that’s saying something.
There were weeks I would see her every day. Other times, I’d try and hunt for her when I couldn’t find her.
She’s seen the worst of the worst. She’s experienced the worst of the worst. Just two weeks ago, a passer-by contacted police because they saw her being assaulted.
The man had already broken her nose, and was attempting to sexually assault her, when a passer-by called 911, and got her to the hospital. My husband and I went and sat in the Emergency Department with her.
She’s been treated poorly because she was homeless. Matter of fact, she was homeless more than half her 50 years.
I’ve witnessed medical staff treat her like scum, and called them out on it. I’ve seen other medical staff treat her with tender-loving care.
I know of agencies that treated her poorly. After all, hardly a day went by that she wasn’t intoxicated. And man she could be mean. But she never once treated me poorly. She was always pleasant.
She told me multiple times that I was one of only a few that loved her without wanting anything in return.
And so, I just need you to see my friend.
She often went unnoticed, unless you worked in homelessness or unless you worked in law enforcement.
But I need her to be seen. I need you to not forget her face.
Because a week ago on a Friday, while I was out of town, my friend died, outside from “alcohol and heat exhaustion.” And that is not acceptable.
Angie, and so many others like her, are the reason I do my job every day. They are the reason I go into the office early, stay late, take calls on nights and weekends. They are the reason I fight so hard to get them the resources they need.
Because the “homeless” persons you see sleeping on a park bench, or panhandling, or doing what they do, are important to me. Every damn one of them.
And I just made a promise to a group of four of my unsheltered friends, that I WILL get a tiny-home village built for them here, so no one else has to die outside. I will fight every day until it’s a reality.
These people deserve housing -- every one of them. Regardless of their choices, mistakes, lifestyle, they ALL deserve housing. Not one person deserves to die outside.
In spite of being heart broken, I got to meet Angie’s daughter the other day -- and man, she’s so much like her.
But she hasn’t become her, and that’s admirable. She is a very nice woman, who hasn’t had the best life, but she has made the best of what she’s had. She also loves Taco Bell tacos.
And she and I spent the day trying to coordinate Angie’s return from the state Medical Examiner’s Office.
So, here’s my friend Angie. You’ll never be as lucky as me to get to know her so well, and spend so much time with her. But, her story deserves to be told.
God bless you Angie. May you truly rest in the peace that this earthly life never gave you, but you truly deserve. There will never be another like you.
Christine Chestnut is the Housing & Homelessness Manager for the city of Salisbury.