Wish Book

A young mom has slept on the streets of Miami and Nicaragua, and now she needs a home

Jocelyn Altamirano, a single mother who was homeless and sleeping on the streets near Marlins Park before she went to the Miami Rescue Mission. She's found a job and is searching for low-income housing.
Jocelyn Altamirano, a single mother who was homeless and sleeping on the streets near Marlins Park before she went to the Miami Rescue Mission. She's found a job and is searching for low-income housing. pportal@miamiherald.com

For Jocelyn Altamirano, home has always been a distant concept.

It’s a concept she couldn’t grasp as a child who suffered from mental, physical and sexual abuse. It’s one that eluded her as she fought for food on the streets of Nicaragua as a preteen.

The concept of a comforting home led her to travel through three countries, while pregnant, in search of another chance in the United States.

And even when she arrived in Miami, she still had to bounce from couch to couch and from shelter to shelter, and even onto the streets of Little Havana.

For now, home is the Miami Rescue Mission. But it’s not the place Altamirano, 24, wants to raise her 2-year-old son, David, or her other sons — Caleb, 6, and Elias, 5,— who are still in Nicaragua.

She longs for a house to raise them in and to have the ideal family situation she has never had.

“I’ve never had my own place, I’ve never had my own home. Everyone just finds a space for me,” Altamirano said.

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How to help: Wish Book is trying to help this family and hundreds of others in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.

Altamirano was born in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. She was handed over by her birth mother, Daysi, to a family friend. The friend raised Altamirano until she was a year old, when her mother took her to the United States.

As a toddler, she said her mother physically abused her and made her perform all the household chores. Her clothing was often covered in blood and she routinely went to school covered in bruises.

“She would beat me up every single day for no reason,” Altamirano said.

One particularly painful incident happened when Altamirano was about 6 or 7, when she went to school covered in scrapes and bruises. The wounds were significant enough to catch the attention of her teachers and counselors.

Her mother was arrested but later released. Around the same time, she also suffered sexual abuse by her stepfather.

After the incident at school, Altamirano went to live with an aunt in Kendall for about three years. She had a sense of normalcy for a while until her mother took custody of her again, took her back to Nicaragua and abandoned the 10-year-old Altamirano in a mall.

“I guess when she took me to Nicaragua that was her revenge,” Altamirano said, recalling her mother’s arrest.

It was there that she had her first experience with living on the streets and fending for herself. She lived off people tossing her scraps of food until she eventually found her way back to the family friend from her infancy.

After about seven years, and the birth of her son, Caleb, she was determined to make her way back to the United States.

Altamirano, traveling by herself at 17 years old, said she made her way through El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico in an effort to get back to Miami. When she reached Mexico she found herself in a perilous situation.

Pregnant with her second child, she was taken by members of Los Zetas, the infamous Mexican drug cartel, who questioned why she was traveling through the country.

Altamirano said she was beaten and tied up by the cartel, eventually let go after about three days.

“For a moment I thought they were going to kill me. I was so scared,” Altamirano said.

Eventually she made her way to Texas and hitchhiked her way to a bus station where she got a ticket to return to Miami.

Her experience in Mexico, as she continued to seek some semblance of home, helped her in developing strength for returning to a life on the streets and in shelters.

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Jocelyn Altamirano, a single mother who was homeless and sleeping on the streets near Marlins Park before she went to the Miami Rescue Mission. She's found a job and is searching for low-income housing. Pedro Portal pportal@miamiherald.com

Altamirano briefly stayed at the Chapman Partnership shelter and had a few jobs as a dishwasher at Bali Cafe in downtown Miami and at a Goodwill store before her youngest son, David, was born.

Caring for him caused her to return to the instincts she picked up on the streets of Nicaragua.

When David started suffering from bronchitis and had an extended stay at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital near South Miami, she began missing too much time from work and lost her job at Goodwill.

After leaving Chapman Partnership to stay with friends, and hopefully find her own space, she ended up homeless near Marlins Park in Little Havana.

She can recall several sleepless nights in the summer heat.

“My son was all bitten up by mosquitoes everywhere,” Altamirano said. “He couldn’t sleep, he kept crying and crying. I was crying with him too, because I was going crazy.”

The only money she had was about $20 on a food benefits card that she used to get milk and food for her young son.

Eventually she found her way to the Miami Rescue Mission at the recommendation of a friend, and has remained there since.

She now works in customer service with the employment placement company Ameritemps. Altamirano said she enjoys the job and is grateful for co-workers and managers who have allowed her a chance to care for her son.

Carla Rodrigues, manager of the Miami Rescue Mission’s center for women and children, said that Altamirano’s story and determination has inspired the staff and other clients at the shelter.

“Jocelyn from the moment she came in she’s been very focused. She did not allow depression to take over her or it would immobilize her,” Rodrigues said.

The Mission helped Altamirano find her job and a day-care center for her son, David, and is working with her on applying for affordable housing.

“Unfortunately she did not have the support from her family but fortunately, losing her job and everything that happened to her before she came to us did not stop her,” Rodrigues said.

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Finding a home of her own and building the kind of family she desired as a child are now the main focuses for Altamirano.

Beyond housing of her own, she’s wishing for toys for her boys and furniture for the home she hopes to find someday.

Altamirano said her kids love toy cars and especially the child-sized ones they can steer themselves. Her son, Elias, is also a big fan of the Power Rangers.

As far as her own hobbies? Altamirano loves to do makeup and made some money doing that before the materials became too expensive.

As she discusses her joys, her mind goes back to her plans to go to Nicaragua later this month to see her sons and hopefully get them to Miami.

“I really don’t want anything material, she said. “All I want is a home.”

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3

How to help: Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@miamiherald.com. (The most requested items are laptops and tablets for school, furniture, and accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.

How to help

Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@miamiherald.com. (The most requested items are laptops and tablets for school, furniture, and accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.

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