Chimera Silvia and fiance

A cocaine addiction has derailed Chimere Silvia’s life for the better part of a decade.

“It’s not like one day, I woke up and thought, ‘I’m gonna be homeless today,’” said Silvia, 29, who resides at the Emmanuel House, an overflow homeless shelter opened last December by the Diocese of Providence. 

“I thank God that I’m not out in the cold every night, that we have places like this to come to,” she told Our Sunday Visitor. 

Two years ago, Silvia said she had pulled herself together after having battled addiction since she was 19. She was earning money from door-to-door sales, and living in an apartment with her children, when her mother, A-Vonne C. Silvia, died suddenly at a local nursing home. 

“I relapsed after she died,” Silvia said. “I used that as an excuse to go back and start self-medicating.” 

Her addiction led her to stop working. Up until November, she still managed to pay her rent with welfare, but said she moved out of her apartment because the landlord did not keep up with necessary repairs, including a leaky roof. 

Silvia sent her six children — ranging in ages 1 to 16 — to live with a relative in Ohio. She does not get to talk to them often, but still holds out hope that they can be reunited soon. 

“My kids are what keep me going every day,” said Silvia, who has been clean for the past 18 months. 

“If I’m out there drugging and doing what I was doing, my kids will stay in Ohio. They need to be with me, their mother.” 

In search of work 

Since moving into Emmanuel House, a former day-care center in Providence, Silvia has spent her days going to local resource centers that offer assistance in finding housing and employment. 

She is often accompanied by her fiancé, James Luciano, 34, who is also a resident at Emmanuel House. They met last summer at a resource center in Pawtucket, R.I. They said they plan to marry after they both get back on their feet. 

“We just have to be patient that everything will come together,” said Luciano, who attended a carpentry class last summer after completing a short stint in jail for domestic assault. Luciano told OSV that work has been hard to come by, and that applying for jobs is not made easier by not having a car. 

“No transportation to get to work means no adequate housing,” Silvia said. “It makes it tough. Most of the time we walk everywhere we have to go to.” 

“I never thought I would fall this deep,” said Luciano, who wears a gold crucifix around his neck. 

That is a sentiment shared by his fiancée. 

“It could be anybody who falls into this position,” Silvia said. “Certain things that happen, obstacles that pop up in your life, can set you back.” 

Getting help 

Silvia told OSV she maintains her sobriety by attending 12-step meetings and by keeping away from her family, because many of her relatives are addicted to drugs and alcohol.  

“I choose to love them from a distance,” she said. 

Also helpful is the fact that the atmosphere at Emmanuel House is much safer than other homeless shelters Silvia and Luciano have slept in. At Emmanuel House, they said, there are no issues with other residents who are drunk or under the influence of drugs. There are no concerns about violence or other residents stealing their belongings. It also helps that many of the volunteers at the shelter have overcome substance-abuse issues of their own. 

“For people like me in recovery, those are the type of people you want to stay connected with,” Silvia said. 

Brian Fraga writes from Massachusetts.

Addiction's toll (sidebar)

26% percentage of the homeless population suffering from substance abuse 

38% percentage of homeless people who are dependent on alcohol 

68% percentage of cities in a 2008 survey that listed substance abuse as the top cause of homelessness in their localities 

Source: National Coalition for the Homeless

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