December 4, 2010 by sthompson · Comments Off
By Mai Lyn Ngo
Her age shows on her face. It is ravaged by years of drugs and alcohol and life. Grey streaks weave in and out of her hair. She sits in a chair a neighbor gave her for the arthritis that took her ability to walk. Doctors say her pain will continue to spread. She sits with a blanket tucked around her legs to keep her warm while the ancient TV plays the daily soap operas. Her hands tremble as she smokes her cigarette. She’s disabled, ill, poor, and often alone – but that does not stop her from smiling and laughing. She sits in an apartment that she is finally able to call home. Marlene Blanton has been homeless for many years and she calls herself Cinderella.
“But at midnight, I don’t turn back into a pumpkin,” Blanton says.
Blanton is a new tenant at Cliff Manor, a residential high rise in Oak Cliff. Before that, she lived at The Bridge, a homeless shelter, and before that she lived on the streets.
Blanton is from Chicago. Her mother was an alcoholic and her father was a drug dealer. The South Side was a tough neighborhood and before long she followed in her parents’ footsteps. She began smoking cigarettes and drinking at the age of 11 and then marijuana and other narcotics followed suit.
Back then, for Blanton it was the thing to do.
“I thought it was fun, drinking and going clubbing. I was the popular girl. I had the popular boy,” Blanton says.
Before long Blanton became pregnant with her daughter, Denise and her son, Anthony. Her daughter and son were only 13 and 10 years old when she left them with her mother and moved to Atlanta. She was afraid the state would take them away. After her mother died, she lost contact with her children. Blanton has not seen them in almost two decades.
Blanton moved around a lot. She went from Atlanta to Tampa, Florida, where she first became homeless, and made her way to Dallas four years ago.
The challenge to become free of drugs and alcohol was not easy and Blanton remembers her own struggle with narcotics and alcohol.
“When you take drugs, you don’t listen to people and you think you know everything,” Blanton says.
She sought shelter at The Bridge, a homeless assistance facility. She would wake up at 6 a.m. to take a shower and wait in long lines for food. The shelter was crowded and residents often stole from each other.
But she wasn’t alone. Three years ago, she met Kelvin Locke, her longtime friend and now fiancé.
Like Blanton, Locke had problems with alcohol and drug abuse. He also suffers from bipolar disorder and was not aware of his sickness for a long time. He said he caught a bus from his native Arkansas to Dallas in search for a better future. He and Blanton met at The Bridge and became fast friends.
“We were two people a long way from home. We both had no one so we stuck by each other, trusted each other. We were two total strangers,” Locke says.
At one point during those three years, Blanton and Locke got jobs cooking and cleaning for the disabled and lived in a boarding house until one day their home burned down. Locke said that was one moment he knew that they needed each other to survive. Not only did they stick by each other, they depended on each other for support and strength.
“We would share everything. If we had a sandwich we would split it. If we had a soda pop we would split it. We trusted each other and still do,” Locke says.
Locke uses the word “grateful” many times to describe how fortunate he is to have a home and someone to love. He is also one of 18 tenants who have moved into Cliff Manor.
“She’s my best friend. I love her and next year we plan on getting married,” Locke says.
Blanton calls Locke her “knight in shining armor”.
Blanton moved earlier this summer into her one bedroom apartment.
She cried when she first walked into her new home on the seventh floor carrying a few trash bags that had all of her clothes and belongings.
“If it wasn’t for The Bridge, I wouldn’t be here now. I would still be on the streets,” Blanton says. “It’s a joy to wake up and not have to worry about people taking your clothes. It’s a blessing.”
That day, she made pork chops for dinner to celebrate.
Since then, she enjoys doing what most people like to do. Blanton said she can’t wait to decorate for the holidays, bake cakes, and clean her home.
She goes on to describe the spider webs she wants to hang up by her door and the small Christmas tree with lights she plans to put up by her TV. Her home is small but is filled with stuff.
The Bridge and the Dallas Housing Authority came together to find prime homeless candidates to live in low-income housing. Cliff Manor, a home for many other Oak Cliff residents, was ideal and affordable. It promised a fresh start for these new tenants, but the move drew media attention along with tension from neighboring residents who worried about possible crime increase and decreasing property values. But despite the negative publicity, one resident welcomed them and was pleased to meet Blanton.
“She’s very pleasant. She’s the type of person that minds her own business. Kelvin too,” said Mildred Lane, who has lived in Cliff Manor for 17 years. “They turn out to be very nice people.”
Blanton just celebrated her 53rd birthday on August 28th. It has been so long she can hardly remember what year she was born. That day, she also found her son.
As she pulls out pictures of a young man she has not seen in 20 years, she is excited about working on their relationship. Blanton said she talks to Anthony almost every day. As she fiddles with her cheap Nokia cell phone she said “I only have 200 minutes a month. That’s nothing.”
She sent him pictures of herself because he wanted to know what she looked like. She found her son with luck. Blanton skimmed the phone books looking for her sister’s contact number. Once she was able to get a hold of her sister, questions about the whereabouts of her children followed. Blanton lost contact with her children when her mother died unexpectedly. She continues to search for her daughter and remains hopeful.
Blanton receives a check for disability every month that she uses to pay for rent and food. Despite difficulties with arthritis and diabetes, she makes time to volunteer and go to church. She also hopes to inspire others to take the hard path to quit drugs and alcohol. She said in the end it is all worth it, and for her it was a fairy tale come true.
By Elena Harding
Freddie Robertson is one of the residents in Dallas who has utilized The Bridge, a downtown homeless center. On Dec. 1, he will move into his own place as part of a transitional housing program.