At no more than five years old, an image burns in my memory of my mom and her friends, nearly zombies in their drug-addicted states. Between the paranoia and desperation for the next “hit,” my mom was lucky enough to remember to breathe, let alone remember to feed her child.
With a new and reprioritized life, she started to compromise food, shelter and love. I was forgotten.
From the earliest time in memory to about nine years old, I would be dropped at countless homes with countless people. I owned nothing more than a garbage bag full of dirty clothes and maybe a toy. Violence, police activity, theft and hunger were all I knew. I was homeless.
Often wearing wet clothes, I’d managed to wash in a public restroom. I would sleep under a pier at the Embarcadero Park—the tide was my alarm clock, and the morning chill was always the coldest. That was my go-to place because it was safe and hard to get to. A second regular spot was under a loading dock at a warehouse on 6th Avenue in East Village near where Petco Park is today. Then there were the countless nights I spent at St. Vincent de Paul Village/Father Joe’s Villages.
For a child of no more than nine, what was offered to my family and me at the Village gave me one night of release at a time—release from hunger, the cold and from fear. As a homeless child, the shelter of somewhere like the Village is deafeningly quiet. Constantly in protective mode, the sleep did not come easily. In a time that was all too disturbing for me, I found solace and a chance to be cared for.
I remember the excitement of the smallest pleasures—a top bunk to sleep in and the chance to play with other kids. I got to attend classes where I first realized that I was gifted in math. I even got to film fake commercials, which was unlike anything I’d ever done before.
I found joy in volunteering in the kitchen and preparing food for the non-resident homeless. Even then I realized the reward that comes with giving back. The Village gave me experiences I would have never had on my own – experiences that allowed me the chance to see beyond survival. Thirteenth Street was my runway to take off from the life I was living. To this day, I can stand at 13th and Market and see my life stretch out as if the road never ends.
I’ve since turned my life around but have not left 13th Street behind. On the same streets I used to struggle, I now make a life for myself and my family. I’ve created a business run on integrity and mindful practices. This business also allows me the time to run a nonprofit that supports foster kids in our city and beyond.
I’m eternally grateful for the solace I found in St. Vincent de Paul Village/Father Joe’s Villages as a young boy, just two blocks away on 15th Street. I’m grateful for the volunteers, donors and management. Their fulfillment of my basic needs and a glimpse into a more routine childhood allowed me to regain my potential and overcome the situation I’d been handed.
I am thankful for all those who had hearts big enough to recognize that homelessness does not define a person and does not have to be the end of the road.
Richard Montaño is the president of LIV Capital Group, a vehicle for investors large and small to gather with other like-minded individuals and accomplish their goal of creating passive income by owning local real estate. Rich Montano is also the founder of Voiceless, a nonprofit focused on the foster care system in America. Learn more at www.montanocompanies.com.