Posted on 07/24/2017 at 03:35 PM by YMCA of Greater Des Moines
After moving to the United States from Cuba, Armando struggled to process family tragedies and life in a new country. See how he made the transition from living on the streets to thriving at the YMCA Supportive Housing Campus.
In 1980 at the age of 20, Armando was excited to move to the United States from Cuba, although the move also meant a painful family separation. He lived with his grandparents in Miami, but shortly after his arrival, Armando’s grandfather died unexpectedly.
“I lost my mind. I started living on the streets,” Armando reflects. Less than a year later, his grandmother died as well. “That’s when I started drinking and living the true street life.”
“I lost my mind. I started living on the streets.”
For more than 30 years, Armando floated in a painful haze, never able to return to his family who were desperate for connection with him. “When I would think about my family and my childhood in Cuba, I would lose my mind again.”
Armando hesitates to revisit memories of his time spent struggling with homelessness and violence in the streets. When his family members were able to reach him, they begged Armando to return to Miami to be with his two aunts, who had been part of his childhood in Cuba. Armando, ashamed of how he had spent his decades away, felt it impossible to return to them and kept his distance.
Then, in 2014 while still living on the streets, Armando was violently attacked and lost an eye. Recovering in the hospital, he was told to come to Des Moines where there would be a wider array of services available to him. “They said ‘Go to Des Moines and you’ll be okay. The people there will help you,’” Armando recalls.
“They said ‘Go to Des Moines and you’ll be okay.’”
When Armando arrived in the city, he stayed at Central Iowa Shelter & Services for several months until his case worker helped him secure an apartment at the YMCA Supportive Housing Campus. “It was the first time I had my own room!” Armando recounts. "I love this place."
Case managers Tobi and Morgan worked with Armando to set goals and begin taking small steps toward healing, which included maintaining safe housing and eventually reconnecting with family. “He always had a smile,” Morgan reflects. “You could depend on that smile and to find him in a happy mood no matter what he was working through.”
After being surrounded by supportive services and the kindness of true community, Armando began flourishing. For the first time in over thirty years, he felt stable and confident enough to pursue relationships with family he thought were long lost to him. His aunts cried when they finally heard from him, knowing he was safe and thriving.
“For the first time ever — I never could do it even once before — I made a promise to return to them,” Armando shares. “It scared me and it’s painful to think about, but now I promised.”
"I made a promise to return to them."
On the day Armando came to say goodbye to Y-SHC staff, he was vibrating with excitement. He admitted that the journey to return to his aunts in Miami filled him with a nervous happiness that was unlike anything he had felt in years. His soft voice repeated “Thank you, thank you” over and over as we wished him well. He left in a flurry of mixed emotions, sorry to leave this positive place but ecstatic about the journey ahead.