From a Shower to Getting Clean
"She came to New Visions for a shower and a meal, like anyone," remembers Kevin Moran, director of LSMNJ’s homeless day shelter in Camden. “But Meda wasn't like anyone else.”
How does someone become homeless? So many ways: domestic abuse, drugs, alcohol, job loss, and mental illness are just a few. Regardless, hardly anyone says "I want to live on the streets."
Nobody would have guessed that's where Meda was headed. Her parents were committed to the American Dream. They came to the United States from Portugal when Meda was five years old. She grew up in a working-class Philadelphia neighborhood, met her husband, and became a mom in a nice, suburban New Jersey community. By all appearances, life was good.
"I was a PTA mom, a soccer mom, a den mother," she remembers. "And I was bored." It was about that same time that Meda had an ear problem. The post-operation pain pills did their job well—too well. She became hooked on them.
Meth and crack became her substitutes. Dealing let her afford her habit, with regular forays into Camden for "product" for her suburban customers. Soon she was estranged from her husband and family, divorced, and had a felony on her record for dealing. Camden became home. No one place in Camden—the streets of Camden. And she became one of the more than 600 homeless in Camden County, and 10,000 in New Jersey.*
"Someone told me about New Visions," Meda recalls. "The people on the streets don't have rules, but we look out for each other. There's a 'homeless grapevine' to find out about things."
New Visions was a start. Meda got the basics—a shower and food—but she needed and wanted more. "It's hard to get your life together once you're down," Kevin observes. "You really need to be persistent."
Two rehab visits later and months in a methadone program, Meda is now New Vision's kitchen coordinator, responsible for a spotless kitchen serving 150 to 200 meals a day. "I nicely guide the volunteers to meet our clients," she smiles. "Breaking down stereotypes is important." What's more, Meda's off the streets in her own apartment and setting goals. "I'm going to be drug free, methadone and all," she vows. There's no doubt she will. "I know when someone's determined, and Meda is." Kevin says with confidence.
* Source: NJ Counts 2015 Executive Summary, 2015 New Jersey Point-In-Time Count Fact Sheet http://monarchhousing.org/nj-counts-2015-executive-summary