Tishina poses for the camera shyly, tilting her chin down and looking upward through her lashes. She’s beautiful, with a light dusting of freckles across her cheeks and a sweet smile. Tishina is almost 50 years old, but she doesn’t look a day over 35.
Originally from North Carolina, Tishina moved to Pueblo in 2009 to stay with her mother and sister. Since her partner’s arrest three months ago, she has been staying at a shelter run by Catholic Charities on Smith Road and comes to Denver Rescue Mission’s Lawrence Street Community Center for meals regularly.
Tishina explains the reasons behind her partner’s arrest, “For not having lights on and driving without a license and no registration and a stolen car,” she said.
After being taken to jail with him, her partner was arrested and charged. Tishina was eventually released.
Without her own cell phone or internet, she is unable to track her partner’s movements through the criminal justice system. But, she explains, at least she knows that he has a place to sleep.
“If he was out, he’d be on the streets, too,” she said. “We both would be. At least I know he’s safe and he knows I’m safe.” Since many shelters are separated by gender, being with a partner while experiencing homelessness often means giving up a bed.
When I talked to her, Tishina was in the midst of setting up a new life for herself, either in Pueblo or in Denver.
“At Smith Road, they’re supplying me with a case worker today,” she announced. “I’m in the process of taking care of myself right now. ID, first. Social Security, birth certificate, next. Social Security card and Medicaid card. I’m getting all of it done.”
Ultimately, she hopes to share a home with her partner when he’s released. However, as she explains, the process has to start with the basics: case workers, paperwork, cell phones, bank accounts. The entire undertaking seems overwhelming, but Tishina is not deterred.
Although she’s no longer in contact with her mother and sister, Tishina does have close connections to other family members. Her daughter lives in St. Louis, Missouri. She’s 35 and married with two little girls and a boy.
“She talks to me over the phone, video chatting me,” Tishina said. “I talk to my daughter and my grandkids.” But without a cell phone, this is now impossible.
The story behind her daughter’s birth is incredibly painful, but there is a frankness and a simplicity in the way Tishina describes everything. “I got raped,” she said. “I had a daughter.”
When she sees the tears in my eyes, her tone immediately becomes motherly. “You’re okay,” she soothes. She knows the effect of her story. She’s also learned to find the silver linings.
“God is my witness,” she said. “If I could do it again, I would have my child again and again and again.’”
At the end of the interview, I ask Tishina if she will be okay on her own in the coming months. Instead of answering for herself, she talks about her daughter and her grandchildren.
“They’re in good hands,” she said, “so I’m okay.”
Written By: Rebecca Spiess, former chef, Lawrence Street Community Center