Benigno (Ben) Rivera

Portraits of Homelessness

Photos and stories of men who are homeless

I was at the end of a vicious cycle when I arrived at 2100. For the last 25 years I was in and out of Penitentiary. Addicted to heroin, I’d be on the streets for 6 months, in the Penn for a couple of years. Finally I was homeless for the last 5-6 years, either living in abandoned houses, or someone’s basement.

I remember I would slip into this one particular house that had electricity, heat, water; I used this house like it was my own. But it was being monitored by the lady who owned it. She’d stop by the house twice a week to check on it. So I’d sleep there and wake early. I might shower, I might not, but I’d get out early. Then I’d walk the streets and I remember feeling helpless and contemplating suicide. It was definitely a rough time.

In 2008 I went to prison for 6 months, but my girlfriend stuck with me, visited me in prison. When I got out we went back to living together. That lasted 11 days. She said I hadn’t changed. I was that same self-centered person who had left 6 months ago.

My girlfriend put me out of the house, drove me to Cleveland. She thought I was going to live with my mother. But my mother is on a fixed income and on Section 8 and I didn’t want to jeopardize her living conditions.

That’s when I came to the shelter and decided to be a man and stand on my own 2 feet. I had a few important things at my disposal–the time afforded me through the V A’s Per Diem program, and a recovery program at 2100 based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Later, I was able to be in the shelter’s stipend program, allowing me to buy a few things, making my stay a little more comfortable.

It was very humbling coming to the shelter. I needed to be humbled. I needed to see the volunteers who came in and gave their time out of the
kindness of their heart. I needed to see there were still good people in the world. I also needed to see the men in E (the Emergency area of the shelter).

There were several guys that came through E, who I got close with, and they died. They died directly or indirectly from alcohol and drug abuse. I needed to see people suffering and dying, the reality of my own addiction. By the grace of God I was taught a lesson, helping me in my recovery. I’m very grateful today.

Last fall I enrolled in Tri-C (Cuyahoga Community College), going for my Associate’s degree. This last spring semester I had a 3.5 grade average; an A in Math, a B in English Comp. I’d like to get my BA degree and–God willing–go on to specialize in Chemical Dependency.

Also in the fall of 2009, Kathy Walker (2100’s Housing Coordinator) got me in Shelter plus Care. Now I am on payroll at the shelter.

The 12 steps of AA say that you have to give it away to keep it. It’s something I try to do. I sponsor people, I run people to meetings, and now, being on staff part-time at the shelter, I try to help the guys as a Monitor. Guys come in with a hopeless state of mind and body … you got to help … I see so many leave in a whole different light. They’re healthier, they can smile; they have housing. They’re people like me who nobody ever thought would make it.