When it comes to homelessness, well, the issue is complex. It takes incredible strength and patience to truly face it head on because not only does one realize how stereotypical we are in our thinking about it but how much we and the system we’ve created exacerbate it.

When it comes to homelessness, particularly if we are privileged, we pinpoint it as some random group’s inability to take advantage of opportunity, their lack of focusing and working hard, laziness, unwillingness to adapt to society’s norms… The list is an abyss of downward gazes.

When it comes to homelessness, we abstract it—sometimes necessarily so—in order to either comfort ourselves or to better understand it. But with all these presumptions, we often forget the obvious part: that we are dealing with humans.

Our Residential Outreach Manager Steve Be Cotte has been one of DTLB’s largest advocates for our homeless population, urging them to seek help, treatment if they need it, and stability.

Unfortunately, he had to recently deal with the darkest side of homelessness: the death of a friend.

These are Steve’s own words:

“When I first encountered Maria R., she looked like any other twenty-something kid in Lincoln Park. She sometimes dyed part of her hair red and would ride around on a skateboard, talking to people and, most importantly, laughing. She was the young blood of the park, the one who brought youthfulness to a place that was often very removed from light.

I remember one day she started screaming, “He gave me AIDS! I have AIDS!” It was at this point that I was shocked because she seemed so normal at the time, so put together. After that I saw her differently: as a victim, not a participant. Sure, my presumptions may have kicked in and, in all honesty, I could only imagine the worst: drugs, prostituting…

Over the next two years, I tried to pay attention to her; I cared not just because she was young but because of what she brought to others at the park. That happiness. That laughter. However, as the situation is, most of my updates came from DLBA Homeless Outreach Manager Antoinette Hamilton or local business owner Allison Kripp. I would read often the Homeless Outreach Specialist log, just to see if she had accepted services—only to discover she refused them all. The Multi-Service Center (MSC) houses a program for HIV-positive/AIDS persons, providing medical care, housing and support services at no cost to eligible persons. Maria sadly never took advantage of the services.

As time passed, her glow faded—sometimes quite physically. I was sitting in my boss’ office a few weeks ago and looked out the window, catching Maria passing by. She was skin and bonesm barely walking… Even toward the end of her life, she returned to Lincoln Park. She didn’t want to see her kidsl she just wanted to be with the people in the park. Several of her homeless friends saw her in the last days, where she had contracted shingles and was in severe pain.

Shortly after, one of her friends in the park sent me a Facebook message saying she had passed away. And I was pained. Because it could have been prevented… It is frustrating to know she could have had the resources to live a good life and she didn’t want it.”

On Wednesday, May 15th, a memorial was held in her honor in the Civic Center plaza. DLBA guides, representatives from the multi-service center and LBPD officers came together to honor her life.