New York City. Stef. 8.1.17

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To be honest, I have been racking my brain to figure out on how I would tell Stef's story. It isn't that I wasn't sure how to capture her obvious exuberance and love for life in words - there is a thesaurus for that. It isn't because her story is so heartbreaking and I am worried that I will not be able to do it justice.

No. Neither of those, nor any other situation I have come across, is the reason.

You see...after speaking with Stef it was apparent to all of us that she was suffering from a mental illness; and just like homelessness, mental illness carries a hard-to-dismiss stigma. In addition, it has become clear to me that many onlookers assume that the majority of the homeless are "crazy" or "sick"; and while I cannot refute that some may be suffering with mental health issues, I want to do my best not to perpetuate those unflattering opinions.

With that being said, as you read her story/stories, I ask that you remember the following: The moment that we asked if we could sit down, Stef - with the biggest smile on her face - laid out two blankets for us. Her kindness, good nature, and overall love of life was apparent at that very moment; and THAT is what should be (and what I hope is) taken away from this recollection.

"Do you have a dollar so that I can buy my Harley Quinn costume?" were the first words that came out of Stef's mouth. We would later find out that it was her plan to dress up as Harley Quinn in Times Square. "I feel like I belong now" she said, as she smiled widely at the dollar store version of Minnie Mouse; a smile that would be consistent, even when her stories weren't.

Her stories....right...I have to get to that...

I think it is fair to say that the majority of Stef's stories focus on her boyfriend. When Stef was 18 her mother kicked her out of the house because she was in love. Here is what we know about Stef's paramour (Please note that the bullets are in the order she told them):

  • He was younger than she was. When he was old enough Stef was going to run away with him; instead she ran away to Texas.
  • In 2008 the man visited and they decided to start their own non profit.
  • They have not seen one another in 12 years.
  • He tells her that he sees her, but tells her he won't ever go up to her.
  • They will be getting married on May 19, 2018.
  • The man lives in Brooklyn.
  • Her brother was best friends with him and willed their mother to have a daughter so that his future sister would marry his best friend.
  • He lives in subsidized housing and she cannot move in because she promised her grandfather - when she was a little girl - that she would not move in unless they were married.

In addition, Stef also spoke a lot of her family, particularly her mother.

  • Her father will be giving her half his pension so that she can buy an apartment in NYC.
  • Her mother refused to medicate her for her ADHD as a child.
  • Her parents separated and since they her mother cannot stand Stef or her father. She believe her mother thinks she is too much like her father and that is why she treats her poorly.
  • Her mother admits her to the hospital for everything in order to "exert her ability to control her (Stef)".
  • Her mother declared her as disabled.
  • She comes from a military family.

And then we got to know a little bit about her.

  • She uses Marykay (a tidbit of information she provided when I told her I couldn't believe she was 32.)
  • She is diagnosed as having ADHD.
  • She has been homeless on and off because of bad roommates situations
  • She was a bartender and going to school part time.
  • She has had part time jobs and lived with her family at that time; however she wasn't happy.
  • She was in a vehicle accident in 2006.
  • Her identity was stolen.
  • She has sleep deprived seizures.
  • Hospitals have been diagnosing her as bipolar. She does not agree.
  • She is currently taking Adderall and Klonopin.
  • She was a straight A student and participated in dance, volleyball, and track. She was also a peer mentor.
  • She always runs away to New York because of the culture and she feels like she can be silly & fun.

Furthermore, she shed light on an ever-growing problem that Project Humanize is trying to address: "As a homeless person, you are victimized a lot."

Here's hoping this post didn't victimize you Stef. It was our absolute pleasure to meet you. Keep smiling.