A family, once homeless, finds peace of mind at Camillus House

Linda Collazo sits surrounded by her husband and three of her five children in her apartment.

She remembers what life was like when the family had no place of their own – before she came to Brother Mathias Place, Camillus’ permanent housing community for underprivileged families.

“I went from house to house until I had worn out my welcome with all my friends,” Linda said. Then the unthinkable happened.

“My daughter and I spent six months in a homeless shelter. She would cry every day,” Linda says of daughter Raquel, now 20.

Linda worked full-time for McDonald’s, a position she still holds two years later. She also worked part-time at Publix. But the money she earned wasn’t enough to pay for housing.

Fortunately, her other children were able to stay with Linda’s sister, but Linda and Raquel were not so lucky.

Then Camillus heard about their situation. By a stroke of luck, a two-bedroom apartment became available at Brother Mathias Place. The family reunited and moved in. This happened two years ago, but judging by the happiness on Linda’s face, it could have happened just yesterday.

“Would you like to see our place?” she asks a trio of visitors. She proudly shows off the bedroom she shares with her husband, Antonio. It’s decorated in warm shades of gold and feels cozy. The room of her boys, 14-year-old Jerameel and 16-year-old Alberto, is sky blue.

All told, Linda, who’s 45, says she went a year and a half without her own place to live. But she says she never lost faith that her situation would improve.

“I knew something better would come up. I was so excited when they gave me this apartment. Now my sons can play outside and not be in the streets, and I know where they are.”

Like most others in Camillus’ permanent, subsidized housing, she pays 30 percent of her income for the apartment. Linda grapples with the devastating condition of bipolar disorder, a psychiatric disorder characterized by exaggerated and sometimes debilitating mood swings. She must take a number of medications, all of them expensive, to be able to function normally.

The medicine would normally cost $1,300, but she gets it at a much lower cost through Medicaid. Her husband is disabled and cannot work. To make ends meet, Linda, now a manager at McDonald’s, must work hard, even when her disease is at its worst.

“The medication limits me. I push myself, but it has to be done,” she says simply.

When she’s not working, Linda likes to go out to the movies with her family. She also enjoys doting on her granddaughter, Raquel’s year-old daughter, Natalie. And, “I’m enjoying watching my kids grow up. I want to be there for them.”

Linda says she gets a lot of help from Camillus, even aside from the subsidized apartment. “For Thanksgiving, they make sure we have a turkey with all the trimmings. On Christmas they give us lots of toys and stuff. It’s great. They even help with the kids’ school uniforms.

“My life has really changed. When I need something, Theresa (the family’s case manager at Camillus) helps me and gives advice. It helps so much to have Camillus there. I’m not alone anymore.”

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