Maricela Castillo moved to Miami knowing no one in the city. She and her son, Marlon Castillo, who is now 6, lived on the streets and in and out of homeless shelters for years.
When Castillo moved into a Salvation Army homeless shelter in December 2010, she met Angel Rodriguez. At the time, all she could think about was getting herself and her son off the streets.
But now, about four years later, Castillo and Rodriguez live in an apartment together in Carrfour Supportive Housing, a nonprofit that provides affordable housing and services to homeless people.
And it’s “for good,” Castillo said through a representative from Carrfour who translated.
“He loves Marlon,” she said Wednesday. “He takes Marlon as his own son.”
Castillo said the two aren’t married yet, because of financial concerns. Neither is employed.
“We always help each other mutually,” she said. “He’s always there.”
When Castillo and Rodriguez met in a homeless shelter in 2010, they were just friends. Rodriguez showed Castillo around the unfamiliar city, where she moved to from Kentucky, and helped her care for her son.
Over time, they began to relate more like a couple because of Marlon, who was a year and a half at the time, said Castillo, who is originally from Cuba.
Since they met, they have been in and out of homeless shelters and housing programs, often living in different places — but always staying together.
They lived together in an apartment for a year through a housing program for homeless and low-income families, but it was only temporary. After the year, Castillo moved to Germany to reunite with her sister. Rodriguez stayed in Miami with his mother.
“He didn’t want to leave her by herself,” Castillo said.
But they were still only separated for 15 days in all. Marlon had a heart condition at the time, and Castillo came back to the United States to get him treatment because his medical expenses weren’t covered in Germany.
When she returned, Rodriguez was in New Horizons, a mental-health shelter for men that wouldn’t allow Marlon. Castillo was placed in a shelter for single mothers.
On Sept. 20, 2012, she came to Carrfour Supportive Housing in the 1300 block of Southwest First Street. Castillo lived in a single-bedroom apartment with her son as a part of a transitional program. After that, she became eligible for a more permanent family program, where she can stay until her son has completed his education. She moved to her current unit in August 2014 and Rodriguez moved in last December.
Stephanie Berman, president of Carrfour, said the program aims to provide families with individualized care, including employment and training opportunities. Each of the 19 communities across the area have on-site case managers and other supportive services.
”It can range from being very hands on depending on what the person needs,” Berman said.
Castillo and Rodriguez take advantage of the services Carrfour offers, Castillo said, but it has not been easy.
Rodriguez is diabetic and has a heart condition. He had his leg amputated in November, and suffers from health problems.
So Castillo helps him around the apartment and helped to care for his wounds. Later this week, he is going to get fitted with a prosthetic leg.
“I fell in the right hands,” she said. “I’m set for life until we’re old.”
She said she hopes to study nursing in the future and work at a nursing home.
Now, she’s devoting her time to her husband and her son, who is struggling behaviorally.
“His mindset is not that of a child,” she said.
She said she considers him to be mature with everything that he’s gone through.
And she said although Valentine’s Day is coming up, she doesn’t have plans yet.
Castillo will also be talking to people in similar situations to give them advice. She said she would tell people to get an education and to give back to where they came from.
“Everyone has a different story,” she said. “There are always second chances.”