Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Help Me Howard: Maria Follow-Up
What comes to your mind when you see a homeless person laying on a bus bench, or a drug addict staggering down the street? Do you assume they are hopeless or do you think they can be helped? If you aren't sure, watch tonight's Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser about a homeless woman they met. See her then and now.
WSVN -- The first time I saw her, she was homeless, living on the streets, addicted to crack cocaine and heroin.
Maria Montalvo: "It was very painful. Very hard. Very challenging."
During a drug binge, police had found Maria Montalvo passed out on the sidewalk. Her face was in horrible shape.
Maria Montalvo: "It was huge, like a football. Half my face was swollen to the point you couldn't even recognize me."
Maria was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where doctors decided, without her permission, to remove all her teeth.
Maria Montalvo: "I just freaked out. I don't remember what exactly I did, but I do remember leaving the hospital."
Maria wound up at a drug rehabilitation center to see if she could beat cocaine. At the same time, she asked us to try to help her get some teeth.
Patrick Fraser: "I have not seen you smile yet."
Maria Montalvo: "No, 'cause you can tell I have no teeth."
Getting free dentures for a drug-addicted homeless person is not the easiest thing in the world, and soon, it looked impossible. A few weeks after we met Maria, she walked away from the drug center and back to the streets.
The next time we saw her, she was in an orange jumpsuit, arrested for violating her probation by leaving the drug center.
Judge: "You are facing a minimum of 35 months in prison, up to 15 years in prison."
Maria begged the judge to give her one more chance at rehabilitation instead of sending her to prison.
But there were no beds at the drug centers. Instead. Maria sat in jail for three months, every couple of days sending me a letter, telling me, "Don't forget me."
Maria Montalvo: "I am not a bad person. I don't give people a hard time. I am just a woman with an addiction problem who has been on the streets."
Then, a spot at a rehabilitation center became available, and we met a dentist who agreed to help Maria.
Maria Montalvo: "Wow."
Patrick Fraser: "What are you covering your mouth for? Don't cover your mouth."
Dr. David Bennett spent several weeks creating the dentures Maria needed, and he did it all for free.
Dr. David Bennett: "I am a very fortunate person, 'cause I have lived a fairly charmed life. My parents were loving parents. They took care of me. They fed me. They educated me, and it's my way of giving back a little bit. This is just what we do."
After being toothless for so long, Maria had teeth and could smile.
Maria Montalvo: "Look how pretty. Thank you. Thank you."
That was in May. Every few days, Maria would send me an e-mail, letting us know she had completed rehab, then got her own apartment.
And this fall, she got a job.
Maria Montalvo: "Wow. So much has happened. It's amazing."
Today, Maria is now working for a major corporation, building her new life but making sure she doesn't forget about her old homeless, drug-addicted life.
Maria Montalvo: "I refuse to put the past behind me totally. It's an experience that needs to be shared."
Maria speaks to various groups, sharing her story about the people who are homeless.
Maria Montalvo: "To let them know how it is out there on the streets, an addiction. People can change. You should never look down on anyone."
People looked down on Maria. Some people see a homeless person as worthless, but many people don't.
Maria Montalvo: "It's very important how you and Johnnie reached out. You were there for me. People were there for me. If you guys weren't there for me, I don't know where I would have been today. It means a lot to care."
Her new teeth gave her the strength to kick cocaine, the confidence to smile, to ask for a job.
Maria Montalvo: "I am growing. It's a metamorphosis. It's amazing. So much is happening."
From an orange jumpsuit to a gray business suit: an amazing year for Maria Montalvo.
Maria Montalvo: "No, it's not easy, but it's a hell of a lot easier than out there."
Patrick Fraser: "Off the streets, on with her life. I hoped we could find a dentist to volunteer to get her teeth, but I had no idea it would help her end 13 years of being homeless. Sometimes, the little things can mean so much to someone. We are happy for you, Maria."
If we can get Maria going, I am sure we can help you, so get in touch with us.