The first time I saw Dora, age 43, was on Saturday, October 7th, in the Thomas Paine Plaza at a Colon Cancer Association Free Outreach Health Festival sponsored by Drexel University that we stopped at while searching Philadelphia for a homeless individual to deliver our care package to. There was a free concert at the event preformed by The Palavations, a cover band who sings oldies but goodies like, “My Girl” by Dylan Scott and “You’re Still a Young Man” by Tower of Power, followed by an encore of “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars upon request. Their performance drew in a decent crowd, with nearly half of the audience being homeless individuals enjoying the free event.
Dora was one of the more energetic members of the crowd, during every song that we were present for she could be seen standing up, clapping her hands, dancing, and singing along with the band for the duration of the show. Her energy was incredibly contagious and I found myself smiling while watching her free spirited dance moves as she was seemingly consumed by the music.
After the concert came to a close Dora slipped away before we had the chance to approach her and we moved on to find another individual. We did come across another woman but she made it clear that she would rather not have her story shared so no further details of this woman will be provided. However, despite her disinterest in the interview we continued to offer her our company and shared a conversation. We attempted to persuade her to accept the care package regardless of her participation in the blog but she only took a couple items, saying that she is “alright.”
After our first encounter we traveled back over to the plaza and found ourselves outside of the Municipal Services Building which is where we found Dora yet again.
The image above has been provided by Google maps and illustrates the structure that we found Dora laying across surrounded by personal items, including the book she was reading at the time, while waiting for her bus.
As we were walking up to Dora a LBGTQ Rights protest had also began making its way up the same street. Dora jumped right up and asked us, “Hey, what is that?” When we didn’t have an answer to give her she marched right over to one of the police men monitoring the scene and asked him what was going on, after which she made her way back to where we were standing on the curb and informed us that it is a protest for gay rights.
Dora promptly got swept up in the excitement once more and hurried over to join the march, after which she ran over to the apparent leader, a drag queen yielding a mega phone, to question her.
After the protest began rounding a corner we began questioning whether or not Dora would be coming back, which is around the time we spotted her walking swiftly back chanting, “Please let my stuff still be there,” under her breath.
She returned to her spot in front of the Municipal Services Building with relief as she observed that all of her belongings were still where she had left them. After she realized we were still there she began explaining to us what the protest is for and informed us that she is so interested because she herself is bi-sexual. She began telling us a story about her coming out. Dora has had an attraction for women since she was just 13 years old but since she was still young she assumed that it was a little strange to think of other women in this way. Then, as she got older, she began to notice that her mom was openly seeing other women and decided, if Mom’s doing it too, maybe it’s not so strange to feel this way. Her mother officially came out around the time of Dora’s 18th birthday, Dora took that as the okay and came out soon after. She promptly became officially united with her first girlfriend, unfortunately the young woman passed away and Dora hasn’t been with another woman since.
After Dora finished sharing her story with us she said, “I’m sorry, but I’m homeless, do you guys have any food?” I happily opened up the care package and handed her the large packed lunch that was sitting on top. She graciously accepted the bundle and began to open it up. After she saw the chocolate bar tucked inside she squeals, “Ooh! You got me chocolate, thank you!”
After which she asked me my name, after I replied she asked me, “Lauren, are you a Christian?” She was apparently satisfied with my unsure answer and asked if she could read something to us, after we agreed she pulled out one of two Bibles that she carries with her at all times. She read one of her favorite psalms aloud and told us that, according to this psalm, it doesn’t matter what you believe in as long as you believe in something.
Dora believes that no one is born bad, their are people that simply make bad decisions, but that that doesn’t matter in the end because, as she explained to us that, “God judges your heart, not your actions.” After she released this wisdom upon us she lifted up her chin and displayed a scar that went across her neck. Dora explained that she got this scar from a procedure following a beating she received from an ex-boyfriend and a group of this friends during July of 2001. The men apparently attempted to “run the train [gang rape],” on Dora but she thankfully escaped their attack. Dora awoke the next day battered, bruised, and bloody and walked around with a broken arm for three days before finally going to see a doctor. Said doctor informed Dora that nearly the entire right side of her facial bones were shattered, he told her that she was going to need surgery. Prior to the surgery Dora had 10 teeth left, now she has none and half of her jaw has been replaced by metal.
Dora explained to us that she believes God allowed her to live through this experience because he judged her heart rather than her actions. She later openly informed us that she does make bad decisions herself and that she is currently battling a crack addition, although it is not nearly as bad as it was before. Dora claims that she is using her love for God to combat her on going addiction.
Kathy had asked Dora how she feels about the “Jesus” that resides in Philadelphia, at first she said she didn’t like him because she thought that he was trying to impersonate Jesus but not she’s okay with him because she realized that he is attempting to embody God’s work. Dora went on to say that she doesn’t really need to talk to him though because she, “has conversations with Jesus everyday.” She admitted that she thought it was a bit strange at first but she has grown to accept and appreciate them.
After Dora finished her religious explanation I began to explain to her that I am a journalism student studying at Rowan College at Burlington County, however, before I could tell her about my blog she excitedly interrupted me and said, “That’s great, please do something for the homeless.” I then explained to her about this blog, Naming the Homeless, and what our goal is. I asked her if she would be interested in during an interview and her whole face lit up, she turned to a woman who had been sitting behind her and said, “They want to do an interview with me!” After which she practically did the interview herself, she was very open about her past and needed little prompting for information.
Dora explained to us that homelessness is a “big issue” and she is correct, it is rising at almost epidemic levels. She told us that a large percentage of the homeless community are veterans and that even if they do want to go to a shelter they usually can’t handle it mentally. She explained that a majority of these individuals either don’t last long in shelters or don’t even bother applying to one at all because they can’t stand the silence that housed people experience during the night. This is due to a disorder that is common among veterans called post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a lot of soldiers who are involved in battle experience constant noise while in the field so the silence of shelters usually comes as a shock to them. Dora has a veteran friend that goes by the name of “Pete.” Pete has a beautiful three bedroom home that came completely furnished, yet he continues to willingly sleep on the streets. Dora has asked him before why he does this and his response has been that he, “couldn’t stand the silence.”
Dora is the mother of a nearly two year old daughter that has a birthday coming up in November. She appropriately named her “Miracle” due to the fact that when Dora came back home after serving a sentence in jail her doctor had told her that she she couldn’t get pregnant. Yet here she is today, the proud mother of a little girl. She promptly asked to barrow Kathy (my mom/partner)’s phone and pulled up her current boyfriend’s Facebook page to show us a photo of her with her daughter, she proudly informed us that she was eight months clean when this photo was taken. Unfortunately Dora no longer has Miracle in her custody and she currently resides in foster care. However, she is actually happy that she is involved in this system because it offers her more opportunities than Dora herself is able to provide her baby with in her current situation.
The boyfriend that I mentioned earlier has been having a huge positive impact on Dora’s life. He is actually the one that got Dora to reconnect with her daughter Miracle after she had been placed in foster care. He also got her involved with going back to school, she now takes art classes at a school that I did not catch the name of and she is also taking classes at the Institute for Community Justice, which also doubles as a job center. We couldn’t be any more happy for her.
At this point Dora pretty much took the interview into her own hands and began rattling off facts about herself. Here’s what we learned:
- She loves to read, she’s always carrying a book with her where ever she goes
- She mostly read christian novels and is heavily invested in the faith
- She loves shiny things, any thing with lights really
- She loves babies and children and always greets them when she sees them (even if she’s in the middle of an interview)
- She absolutely loves Christmas (just like I do) and will find herself listening to Christmas music as early as July (also me)
- Her favorite color is purple
- Her favorite soul singer is Kirk Franklin, although she also enjoys listening to R&B music
After Dora told us about her love for Kirk Franklin she asked to barrow Kathy’s phone again and informed us that she was going to play her favorite song for us. She started playing the song “Lean on Me” to which she knows every single one of the words to. I know this not because she told me so but because she began to serenade us and she really did know every single word. She also danced as she sang and it was evident that this song really spoke to her, the content included: homelessness, drugs, and babies born with aids. When we approached the climax of the song, when Franklin sings, “How can I love Jesus when I have never seen his face?” Dora exclaims, “This is the problem with the world!” She explains that people often abandon their faith because there is no physical proof of Jesus or God but that this shouldn’t be the point. She says you have to place your trust in God and in turn he will look out for you and be there for you.
Unfortunately at this point of the interview Dora’s bus arrived and she had to run off to catch it so I wasn’t able to gather as much information as I would have liked to. She contemplated staying and catching the next one in order to stay and talk with us but realized that she couldn’t afford to wait for the next one. We said our goodbyes and I hope to hear from her soon by contacting her through her boyfriend’s Facebook page that she had pulled up earlier on.
All in all Dora was a wonderfully wholehearted woman who is very passionate about the things that she loves. She made our trip to Philly worthwhile (we got incredibly lost trying to find our way back home) and I wish her the best of luck in all of her future endeavors.