By Di Marie Mariani
Meet Diamond! A mother of two, a grandmother, a sister, a peer mentor, and passionate lover of an advocate for animals. She is also a friend to the homeless living in shelters and an outreach worker to the homeless living on the streets. Her shining light to so many, however, hasn’t always been sparkling the way she is now.
Not liking to follow rules Diamond said that she “…hit the streets of Providence in 2005,” at the young age of 13. Diamond was homeless for five years. Her story does not address all the deep details that led her to homelessness. Also, not every special occasion is mentioned that has brought her to be the accomplished woman she is today, and still yearning to be.
But, what is important to Diamond’s story and what she most wants is for her granddaughter, who is the highlight of her life to know, is for her to grow to be a “…independent woman that can be what she wants to be.”
The Homeless Life
Diamond lived from shelter to shelter in and out of Rhode Island. Diamond says, “It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of trials, a lot of tribulations, and a lot of heartbreak being homeless.” She “lost a lot” during those years, including her relationship with her children (which is now repaired with her daughter and her granddaughter).
Afraid to sleep outside, Diamond always slept in shelters. “I don’t know if you would call me is a ‘girly girl’ but I was scared of dirt, bugs…different things. I can’t deal with dirtiness, filthiness. But, it was hard at the shelter! When you are there, you wear your heart on your sleeve and become someone you don’t want to be, to protect yourself. I became this to fit in and to make sure nobody bothered me, hurt me, took my stuff. You forget who you are there, and become somebody you do not want to be!”
During these years, Diamond was a drug user and a drug dealer. “You name it; I did it!” she explains. “I created different ways to do different things,” she states, when talking about what she did, as if she felt that rules didn’t apply to her.
Being homeless, also led to Diamond being kidnapped and to being raped. These are things she wanted to be known in her story, but it was a tough decision for her to say them. Yet, as tragic as times were, Diamond drew strength by getting through it the best she could. There is an aspect to her homelessness that she claims, “…I kind of enjoyed some of it. I got to travel, see different places and things. It was different!”
Diamond’s traveling during her homeless years brought her to live with her grandfather in Florida for two years. She feels lucky for these years. During this time her grandfather’s words changed her life. “He told me I was somebody and that being homeless was a choice…”, Diamond stated. This is when her grandfather told her that only she could make a change in her situation. She went on to say, “I didn’t understand what he was saying at first. Now, I understand!”
“In 2013/2014, I got tired. I wanted to make that change. I gave up, ‘cause my way wasn’t making it. There were people who were in her life who influenced her to change her way. Jennie DiTomasso was one of the wonderful ladies involved in the change in Diamond’s life. Jacob, a gentleman of the TLC program was there for her, she said. Another woman involved in Diamond’s life, was her caseworker, Michelle Cantini. Michelle was a “white” woman. Diamond at the time not only didn’t like authority and she especially she didn’t like “white” people.
Diamond wanted none of Michelle, yet Cantini point-blank told Diamond, “I’m all you got! We are going to do this, or we are not going to do this!” Diamond exuberantly tells how, “…this lady made a change in my life!”. Through Michelle Cantini’s program, Diamond became certified to be an Animal Care Tech. Diamond is certified to care for animals in many ways, such as giving animals medications, etc. This accomplishment changed Diamond’s life.
“I got to deal with animals and found a passion at that time for animals. I learned the value of animals. Animals are homeless, too and need people to care for them! To this day, I go over, above and beyond for animals!”
Viola Smith’s Job Readiness Program was, also, a life-changing event for Diamond, and an honored accomplishment!
The Accomplished Diamond
In 2016, Diamond got a house which burned down the same year. She almost lost her life and her cherished cat. The Salvation Army and the Red Cross helped Diamond after the fire, through the assistance of Crossroads. When funding for her living space ran out, Diamond had nowhere to go. But, Diamond’s sister took her in! Diamond cannot express how thankful she is to her sister. She acknowledges that her sister didn’t have to give her a “place to be”, but Diamond happily adds, “But, we are family!”
Diamond didn’t stay living with her sister; she chose to be homeless. “I could have easily gone home and lived under everyone’s roof. I wanted to do this on my own, get my own place, get my own Social Security. I feel good that I did it! My sister is happy for me. She said you can always come home. Yet, I had to do that for myself. It’s easy for people to give you things and when they do, it is easy for them to take from you, too. When you do things on your own, people can’t take them from you!”, Diamond explained.
Diamond has her own home, again, now. She is a Peer Mentor through House of Hope. She took a six-week program to become a mentor. “Six weeks of taking a hard, long, look at myself and helping others to do the same”, she relates. Through the NAMI Rhode Island peer support program, Diamond got to find out about her mental health issues. She is okay to talk about it now and she ended up enjoying the program. “I’ve accomplished a lot in a little bit of time. But there is still a lot more for me to accomplish. There is still a lot more for me to add” says Diamond.
It has been four years since Diamond has been in trouble. She very excitedly explains the reason for this. “The best person who is out there right now is Commissioner Pare of the Providence Police Department. I made him a promise that I would change my life if he would help me be real with the homeless. He hasn’t steered me wrong, yet! I feel special to have a bond with someone who is in authority like that, to have a friend, a helper like him!
The Now and the Future Diamond
Diamond works five days a week and does outreach seven days a week. Even when she is not at work, her phone “is always going off.” “Even when I’m working, I will stop what I am doing, because it is for the homeless!” she explained. She loves the House of Hope Access Program.
“I love that place! I want to be able to give back and because I understand it. It’s not a paycheck for me. It’s me being able to be that one person that saves one person’s life! That’s all it is about. If I could save one person’s life, or give one person a smile every day, or let them hug me and tell me thank you, then that means more to me that a paycheck. Money is easily spent. Once it is spent its gone. You save someone’s life; they’re still here. It doesn’t matter how you save their life; you’ve saved their life for that day! Those things mean a lot to me.”
Diamond is a woman in Providence that you can trust. She knows what it is like to not trust people. Yet, through her perseverance, knowledge, and compassion, people on the streets of Providence and people in programs and in places of high authority, know that they can trust Diamond. They can trust her to help them and to help them in the right way.
“People forget about the people who die out there in the street. There are a lot of them. They can trigger me, but they don’t. I remember being out there. I felt nobody’s out there who cares about me to…to remember me. But, there were people out there who wanted to help!”
A fundraiser Diamond has started is, Help the Homeless of Providence. Diamond is collecting blankets, socks, underwear, coats, etc. to distribute to the homeless. She will be also be starting up a Go-Fund Me page. At this site, she will be able to raise funds that will enable her to go to stores as Savers, “…and get stuff.” She said that there are finer things in life that everybody has, that sometimes people, even down to me, don’t have. Something as simple as a toothbrush, a bar of soap…or a bottle of lotion. People take these things for granted when they have it, they have so much of it. Simple, sweet little things in life that you cherish in that moment mean a lot. To take a shower, a bar of soap, a clean pair of socks, these can put a smile on someone’s face!”
Diamond’s plea is, “People go in your closets, come out of your closets. Come down to Providence! Even, if it is a hot day. If it is a cold day, bring someone a cup of hot coffee!”
Diamond’s pearls of wisdom to those who struggle, “Value your special moments. No one can take them from you!”
A happy note: Hours before publication of this article Diamond informed us that she has just been hired as a staff member at the Pawtucket Women’s Shelter!
No longer a Diamond in the rough.
Photo By Di Marie Mariani