“I never trusted anyone enough to tell them my story like I have told Corey.”
– Armando Lopez
Armando Lopez remembers the scene like it was yesterday. He had gone to see his social worker, Corey Bisceglia-Kane, at St. Francis House. He was upset, ready to abandon his recovery program and desperate for a drink. He asked Corey to give him the money he had requested she safeguard for him for this very reason — to keep him from going on a bender. She was resisting, trying to convince him that he had better options. He abruptly and angrily left her office and she pursued him down the stairs, telling him that conflict was part of every relationship. She still wanted to know him and be involved in his life. Armando now recalls her actions with tenderness: no one in his life had ever cared enough to chase him down in that way. “She’s like a mother, a sister, a superhero, my plan B when plan A isn’t working,” says Armando, 49, who has been seeing Corey for therapy and case management since 2011. “She has always given me great advice and although I’ve messed up along the way, she is always there for me. I never trusted anyone enough to tell them my story like I have told Corey.” That story began when Armando was five and his stepfather came into his life. The beatings and verbal abuse started immediately and continued for almost a decade. He was locked in closets and left outside in the rain. He remembers constant hunger and anxiety about when the next beating would occur. At school, Armando was unable to focus and would check the clock compulsively, dreading the final bell when he would have to return home. By age 10, he was drinking to cope. “I was a ball of paranoia, walking on two legs,” Armando says. Although some adults in his life knew about the abuse, no one ever intervened. His alcoholic mother was also abused by her husband and she would ask her son after the beatings: “What did you do to provoke him this time?” The single loving presence in Armando’s life was his grandmother, who would take him with her to Puerto Rico during school vacations. But she was unable to rescue him from the abuse. As an adult, Armando never stayed anywhere for long, sometimes sleeping in abandoned houses and under bridges all along the East Coast. He followed the harvest, living in migrant labor camps, where the pay was mostly in drugs and alcohol. Despite multiple stints in detoxification and recovery programs and a psychiatric hospitalization, Armando’s demons continued to get the best of him.
Corey recalls that when she began doing therapy with Armando, he could tolerate no more than 10 minutes at a time and was so anxious he would crumple a plastic water bottle as they spoke. “We moved slowly and I reassured him that whatever he could do was enough for that day,” says Corey, who continues to seem him most Tuesdays at 1 p.m. at St. Francis House. “He had a lot of relapses, but we worked hard on his not letting his shame prevent him from coming in.” In addition to sessions with Corey, Armando also received his meals, clothing, and psychiatric care at St. Francis House. He remembers one particular session with Corey — a turning point— when he finally allowed himself to grieve for his lost childhood. “I cried like a baby,” recalls Armando. “I had never cried before. I felt better. I felt a connection with Corey and it just kept growing. I thought the abuse was my fault, but it wasn’t. I learned that from Corey.” With Cory’s help, Armando eventually got sober. She taught him how to quell his anxiety, which finally enabled him to be around other people. They worked together on securing and furnishing an apartment in West Roxbury and eventually he was able to start working part time as a security guard.
Corey is the most constant presence in his life and has always been there when he has needed her, says Armando. When she was on maternity leave this winter, Armando’s apartment suffered severe water damage and he was unhappy with his landlord’s response. He was ready to stop paying rent and abandon the apartment. Corey coached him over the phone about how to advocate for himself and he successfully resolved the issue, even convincing his landlord to put him up in a hotel until the repairs were done. “This is a good example of why it’s so important for us to continue to work with some of our guests, even after they’re housed — to ensure they don’t return to homelessness,” says Corey. These days, Armando leads a quiet life, even a little boring, he admits, and he’s the happiest he has ever been. When not working, he loves to walk for hours around Boston, and at home he watches YouTube videos and other programs, particularly documentaries. He has re-established a relationship with his mother, from whom he had been estranged for years. “Now I love her with ALL my heart,” says Armando.