What image comes to mind when you think of someone who is homeless? Is it a woman on the street begging for a quarter? Is it a man in tattered clothes with a bag of recyclables?
Homelessness has many faces. Some of them are innocent children who were forced to be on the street by regrettable circumstances.
Today we share a story from one of those children who found refuge at the Village. He is grown with a family of his own, but he still remembers vividly his experiences on the streets.
Meet Richard-- he has gone from homeless to homebuilder.
As I watch my kids laughing and roughhousing on our living room floor, I’m thrown back to my childhood and the distance that existed between these everyday moments and the life I lived.
At no more than five years old, an image burns in my memory of my mom and her friends, nearly zombies in their drug-addicted states. Between the paranoia and desperation for the next “hit,” my mom was lucky enough to remember to breathe, let alone remember to feed her child.
With a new and re-prioritized life, she started to compromise food, shelter and love. I was forgotten.
From the earliest time in memory to about nine years old, I would be dropped at countless homes with countless people. I owned nothing more than a garbage bag full of dirty clothes and maybe a toy. Violence, police activity, theft and hunger were all I knew. I was homeless.
Often wearing wet clothes, I’d managed to wash in a public restroom. I would sleep under a pier at the Embarcadero Park—the tide was my alarm clock, and the morning chill was always the coldest. That was my go-to place because it was safe and hard to get to. A second regular spot was under a loading dock at a warehouse on 6th Avenue in East Village near where Petco Park is today. Then there were the countless nights I spent at St. Vincent de Paul Village/Father Joe’s Villages.
For a child of no more than nine, what was offered to my family and me at the Village gave me one night of release at a time—release from hunger, the cold and from fear. As a homeless child, the shelter of somewhere like the Village is deafeningly quiet. Constantly in protective mode, the sleep did not come easily. In a time that was all too disturbing for me, I found solace and a chance to be cared for.
I remember the excitement of the smallest pleasures—a top bunk to sleep in and the chance to play with other kids. I got to attend classes where I first realized that I was gifted in math. I even got to film fake commercials, which was unlike anything I’d ever done before.
I found joy in volunteering in the kitchen and preparing food for the non-resident homeless. Even then I realized the reward that comes with giving back. The Village gave me experiences I would have never had on my own – experiences that allowed me the chance to see beyond survival. Thirteenth Street was my runway to take off from the life I was living. To this day, I can stand at 13th and Market and see my life stretch out as if the road never ends.
"For a child of no more than nine, what was offered to my family and me at the Village gave me one night of release at a time—release from hunger, the cold and from fear."
I've since turned my life around but have not left 13th Street behind. On the same streets I used to struggle, I now make a life for myself and my family. I've created a business run on integrity and mindful practices. This business also allows me the time to run a nonprofit that supports foster kids in our city and beyond.
I’m eternally grateful for the solace I found in St. Vincent de Paul Village/Father Joe’s Villages as a young boy, just two blocks away on 15th Street. I’m grateful for the volunteers, donors and management. Their fulfillment of my basic needs and a glimpse into a more routine childhood allowed me to regain my potential and overcome the situation I’d been handed.
I am thankful for all those who had hearts big enough to recognize that homelessness does not define a person and does not have to be the end of the road.
Richard Montaño is the president of LIV Capital Group, a vehicle for investors large and small to gather with other like-minded individuals and accomplish their goal of creating passive income by owning local real estate. Rich Montano is also the founder of Voiceless, a nonprofit focused on the foster care system in America. Learn more at www.montanocompanies.com.