A holiday miracle at Pathways
Renaldo “Cuba” Sanchez was referred to Pathways in January 2015. We believe he has been homeless for decades and came to the United States as part of the Mariel boatlift, when the Cuban government forced people from Cuba's prisons and mental hospitals into boats and created a mass emigration of refugees.
Pathways staff engaged him for months and then years as he lived in Suburban Station. Renaldo communicates with the team in Spanish and always offered them snacks and drinks while he politely turned down their offers of food and housing. Cuba was known and loved by most SEPTA workers, police, buskers, and outreach workers in and around Suburban Station. He could frequently be seen reading newspapers by the newspaper stand next to the escalators, circling headlines related to obscure political events or his homeland of Cuba.
It took a year for him to even accept a cup of coffee from me, and for months after that he continued to refuse offers of food and would try to feed and caffeinate me instead. I can count on one hand the number of times he allowed me to buy him food this past year.
Fast forward to last Friday, when I was searching for participants in Center City who I wanted to invite to our annual Pathways holiday party. It is a festive event with food, dancing, tinsel, ugly sweaters, lots of laughter, and may be one of the only holiday themed events many of our participants are invited to this year. I especially wanted people on the street to have the chance to relax and enjoy themselves. I found Renaldo walking through Suburban Station with blankets slung over his shoulders, and invited him to the party - fully expecting him to decline. To my surprise, he said okay and walked with me to catch the subway, insisting all the way that I did not need to buy his SEPTA fare (he tried to pay for both our fares with his expired cards).
We made our way to the party where he enjoyed a meal and met several staff members. We each offered him the opportunity to go straight into an apartment from the party, and each of our offers was met with a quiet “Okay.” In some amount of disbelief, we moved Renaldo, his small collection of bags, and some housing basics into an apartment near our office. Upon brief inspection of the apartment, he asked where the bathroom was and promptly took a hot bath.
It has now been several days and he has been spending time in his apartment and taking brief walks in the neighborhood. Although he may one day accomplish his dream of moving back to Cuba, we have the pleasure of working with him in the meantime!
Naomi Sonne, Manager of Homeless Services