Currently homeless, Freda comes from Chunchula, Ala., a small community outside Mobile where she grew up with six other siblings. She is a mother to two daughters and a son and, when inspired, writes poetry steeped in her faith, Christianity.
“I try to keep a smile on my face,” she said. “A lot of times, people don’t know that I’m down. I do it because I might be putting somebody else up who is having a bad day.”
Freda first came to Wellspring seven years ago.
“People were telling me about it and I just happened to come in one day and I ain’t left yet,” she said.
“It means a lot [coming to Wellspring] especially if you ain’t got no money to eat or you ain’t got no place to go to during the day,” she said. “You can come in here and stay till they close.”
“A lot of people on the street don’t care if you are hungry on the sidewalk — about to die or about to pass out,” she said. “They will walk right past you. But, they don’t ever turn you away here.”
“I get so many hugs here,” Freda said. “I love it. It is incredible.”
Her favorite part about Wellspring is the volunteers and the staff.
“I love them because they accept me for who I am,” she said. “They don’t change. I just love them. They always try to help us. They are always the same.”
What have you learned as you’ve moved through life?
“There are trials and tribulations in everything that you do, but you can’t let the bad override everything that you do,” she said. “… I love people no matter what. It doesn’t matter what color they are, from the littlest to the very oldest. I love them to death. Especially babies and elderies and the handicaps — oh my God, I got to because I have a handicap.”
What is your disabilty?
“They say that I was mildly retarded,” she said. “But, I don’t let that hinder me. When my son was getting ready to go to school, I made myself sit down and learn. I read and I did all of that because I didn’t want kids to make fun of my son and tell him that I was a dummy.”
Her son, who just turned 24, is serving in the Army. Her 20-year-old daughter, who is studying at Sacramento City College, just became a mother. Her youngest daughter is 18 and battles brain cancer.
“If one of my kids goes before me, I am going to lose it,” she said.
“I got to keep going because I have kids,” she said. “I have to live for them if not for anything else.”
What does being a mother mean to you?
“I gave my kids to their daddies when I was younger because I was on welfare,” she said. “I wasn’t getting enough money. I couldn’t buy my kids anything after paying rent. It hurt for me to give my kids up to their dads, but I wanted to do the right thing and make sure that they were taken care of. I didn’t want to drag them around — from pillow to post.”
Her son and her daughters have different dads. Her son grew up in Reno and the daughters, Sacramento.
“My ex-husband who lived in Reno would come up here and he would take both of my daughters,” Freda said. “He wouldn’t ask their daddy for a penny and he would let them stay with him in Reno for the whole summer. We would take them to the movies — everything, buy them stuff and clothes. He loved my kids. When he bought a house, he bought one with three bedrooms — one for him, one for my son and one for my girls.”
Freda, who is 49, met him when she was 22.
“I talked to him today and I love him to death,” she said. “I love him more today because he stuck by me no matter what. We broke up and he would still come here and pay my rent, move me and buy me food and clothes — even when he had his own bills.”
Her ex-husband would always tell her son that he shouldn’t turn his back on Freda even when she was addicted to crack cocaine.
During a visit with her son, they went to see a movie and then her son pointed at the city jail and said to Freda, “Mommy, it’s your second home.”
“I wanted to say something so bad to him,” Freda said. “But, he was telling the truth. Kids tell you the truth. It hurts, but you have to accept it.”
Her daughters’ father is currently in prison for molesting her youngest daughter. The daughter came forward with the abuse when she was 13 years old. .
“My daughter is the one who broke the barrier and then these other women came forward.” Freda said.
“I blame myself because I gave them to him,” Freda said. “I don’t beat myself up like I used to. It hurts because nobody deserves that. I don’t care if you are a kid — middle aged or a senior.”
“I used to hate him so bad and then I started praying,” she said. “I started praying that God would take the hate from me. He did. I just don’t like him and the act that he did is unforgivable.”
Freda said she also was sexually abused when she was a child, by her step-grandfather.
“They didn’t do nothing to stop my stepgrandaddy,” she said. “They didn’t do nothing to him and my whole family knew it.”
Life growing up in Chunchula could be slow for Freda.
“It was fun, but I had too much energy,” she said. “The main highway goes straight through Chunchula, if you blink five times you are out of it.”
Was there a lot of racism there?
“The KKK would chase my brothers through the woods,” she said. “My brothers knew the woods like the back of their hands. One of my friends who went to school with me — she was a grade or two behind me — they hung her daughter’s daddy up in his momma’s house in ’86 or ’87.”
Freda has been living in Oak Park for the past 25 years.
“It’s been a challenge in Oak Park,” she said. “There are a lot of people that run you over if you let them. They will manipulate you — especially if you have a disability. It is a challenge, but I guess everywhere is.”
Freda was recently kicked out of her sister’s apartment. She is on the street again for the first time in months.
Her sister’s landlord became angry at Freda when she didn’t share her Social Security check with her. Freda decided to leave when the landlord tried to run into her with a car.
“I still don’t even hate her today,” Freda said. “I just dislike what she did. She is a human being. God will work everything out.”
“It’s rough,” she said about her being homeless. “It’s scary out here because when you lay down you don’t know who is going to pass you by, who is going to do what to you. There are a lot of good people out here that help. I was sleeping under the bridge over there on X Street. I went over there and laid my covers over there and then I was sitting there for a minute and I took my shoes off. This man came over and parked his car over there to bring a brown bag and he said, ‘Hold your head up and keep God in your thoughts.’ I said, ‘I do that because I write Christian poems. I’m always keeping him in my heart and praying and everything.’ He said, ‘OK, you have a good night.’ I thanked him. I started crying because there are good people out there. They’ll help you and even without asking they will help you. He went back into his car and he was getting ready to put his keys in his car and he was sitting there for a moment and he came back and he gave me $4. It was good because I had nothing at the time.”
Freda has nerve damage in both of her feet — making it especially tough when walking is the only means of transportation.
“I hurt all the time,” she said.
Recently, she was in a fight with a woman and arrived at Wellspring with a swollen face and a gashed cheek. The women threatened to slit her throat. Freda called the police.
“Out here is not for me,” she said. “It’s not for anybody.”
Another night, Freda slept on the steps of a church by Alahambra and Broadway with four other people. All huddled for warmth beneath a blanket they shared.
What does the experience of having a home mean to you?
“It’s the simple things that we take for granted,” she said. “Showers, TV and a warm floor. There is nothing that you can say to convince me that being out here is better than having a home.”
What keeps you surviving through each day?
“My kids and God because he lets me write the poems,” she said. “He gives me the title and then I give them to him in my writing.”
What are they normally about?
“The trials, tribulations and the struggles that we all go through,” she said.
“I had over 5,000 poems,” said Freda, who added that the poems and her baby pictures were discarded by the landlord.
“I used to say that I was the weakest link in the family, but I’m not the weakest link,” she said. “I love everybody no matter what because I have been in the lowest places. That’s something that God has given me.”