Community Awareness is a show produced at WKTV and hosted by Donna Kidner-Smith. The show acts as a conduit for people in the local community to share their stories. Donna’s latest series focuses on homeless teenagers and how they were able to cope.
Mortisha Olvera was found herself homeless at 17 years old, here is her story. The full interview can be seen in the view above.
Thank you for joining us to share your story.
Thank you Mrs Smith. I appreciate that a lot. I have been wanting this opportunity ever since I was a little girl, to tell my story because I have a really good one, and I would love for my story to help many other children out there. Because what I went through, I don’t want anyone else to go through too.
Mortisha, what is your earliest childhood memory?
When my mom, sister and I went to the park and we were having a really good time. My mom was barbecuing but my dad wasn’t around at the time. We were having a really good family time, and I miss that to this day.
How many sisters do you have?
I have four sisters.
Tell me a little bit about your family set up?
My mom and dad were married. They were together for nine years, but when I was three my father left. I actually just recently got to see him after 17 years! I was scared, I didn’t know what to say. He got to meet my little daughter, and I was happy for that. It was nerve-wracking because I don’t know what to say when I meet new people.
And where has your dad been since then?
He’s been in Florida the entire time.
What brought your father to Michigan?
To come see my 9 month old daughter. That one of the reason I wanted to see him. So he could meet a new member of the family.
So he was seeking a relationship with you?
Yes, he always has, but I’ve been too afraid to reach out and be willing to meet him. I don’t want to get hurt either.
Have you completed High School Mortisha?
I actually have not. I didn’t drop out, I quit in the 11th grade because I was in Comstock but going to school in Ottawa Hills. That was a long distance and very difficult to do.
So you were living in the Comstock Park area and you were enrolled at Ottawa Hills High School?
Yes I was. It was hard to make that transfer every day, and then my mom was also sick at the time. She has been sick almost her whole life, but it got worse and we started living at York Creek.
What do you think about school?
I like school. I like art. I think more kids should go than skip it to do drugs and the whole immaturity thing.
Tell us a little bit about elementary and middle school. What were some of the things that you enjoyed the most in school?
I liked the people. I liked the teachers. I got to know the teachers very well, they were like my friends because I didn’t have many friends in school. The teachers were my friends and they helped me through so much! Without them I wouldn’t have made it through any grades.
When you say they helped you through so much, are you speaking academically or otherwise.
Academically, physically and mentally because I was going through a hard time in those times.
Well then, let’s launch into that if it’s not too personal Mortisha. What were some of the issues that you were contending with, that you needed the teachers’ assistance with.
Well, I was in special ed because I had a really hard time reading and in math. When I was born my umbilical cord wrapped around my brain and the lack of oxygen killed some of my brain cells. I try to fight that because It’s a really hard difficulty to deal with, but I fight through it every day.
Now you mentioned that your mother has been sick most of your life.
Yes, she’s been sick ever since she came out of the womb because she has a hole in her heart, but the doctors never found it until 4 or 5 years ago. It’s been getting bigger too. She’s been doing okay, but she’s been getting worse.
As far as a home, tell us about your home life. Experiences or hobbies that you had. Maybe some activities you did as a family.
Well, my mom was never home because she always worked. She would get up at 5 in the morning and be home at 5 at night. So every day, she only had one day off, she would go to work and come home and relax. She worked as a housekeeper for Heather Hill Care Center for 10 years. She did for 10 years on top of taking care of us at the same time.
What was the dynamic like in your neighborhood? Were they neighbors to watch over you?
No, I was an alone child. My sisters went off and did what they wanted to do. I stayed by myself. I didn’t go around anyone. I’m still that way today. Being around people scares me sometimes. I don’t know what to expect when I see a new person.
What would you say is your number 1 challenge? Being the age that you are, you are now 19 years old, what would you say is your number 1 challenge?
My daughter. She is a blessing because I never thought I could have kids. Being a first time mother, every day is different and I don’t know what to expect. Every day she’s changing. Everyday she’s growing and eating different things. It’s hard because you don’t know what she wants and since she’s only 9 months old she can’t speak. So all she does is run around on her little toesies. I went to he doctor yesterday. She’s 9 months, 20 pounds and 29 inches. So she’s a pretty good, healthy baby.
Is the father involved in her life?
No. I was tired of the abuse. I was tired of the mental abuse. I was tired of always being put down and called names. I was with him for 2 years, and for those 2 years I was going through some major, harsh stuff. For those 2 years I was homeless, pregnant, abused, and raped. I just pray everyday that I don’t have to see him ever again. I’m personally scarred. I have PTSD from this man and I can’t deal with it.
You mentioned that you were homeless. Are you currently homeless?
No, it’s my first place that I’ve ever had that I can call my own. I’ve never had that and I pray to God that I will have it until the end.
May I ask what caused the homelessness?
My mom got evicted from York Creek by the baby daddy because he was causing issues. My mom and my baby sister left to go live with my older sister. I had to get left behind because there wasn’t enough room in the car, but they said if there was enough room in the car I would’ve been taken with them. So, they left and I got left behind. Still, to this day, my mom cries and says she wishes she would’ve taken me that day. When they left I became homeless. I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I was 17 at the time. A little baby in the streets not knowing what to do.
So, you’re left there in the parking lot. What what the first step after that?
To find somewhere to stay. I was worried about when I was going to eat again because I didn’t have food stamps or state ID. I left with nothing.
And where did you go?
I stayed on the street. I stayed in a park, under a tree, hoping that it was not going to rain because it looked a little cloudy that night.
So you went from York Creek in the Comstock Park area to Downtown Grand Rapids area?
Yes, and that’s where I stayed for two years. Then I met this awesome place called Unlimited Alternatives. It is a rehab center, but they took me in. They have washers, dryers, showers, computers, stove, a kitchen, and a food pantry. That place really helped me out when I was homeless. I went there everyday. It was open from 8am to 4pm. So it was a very good time for me to stay warm.
In the evening, when those doors closed, what happened?
I went down to Rosa Parks Circle and I would spend my time there. Or I would go to the library or I would go to GrandLAN, which is a video game place. When those places closed I would find a place to stay in an abandoned apartment. Through two summers, fall, and winters that’s where I stayed. That abandoned apartment.
Were there others there with you? Or were you alone?
It was just me and the baby daddy. We stayed in the abandoned apartment. Just somewhere we could stay warm and put our stuff. Everyday I was always scared because I didn’t want to wake up to guns pointing in my face telling me to get out or getting arrested for trespassing. But I didn’t want to stay outside. I wanted to be safe. So I took my own risk and stayed in the abandoned apartment.
Did your family know you were homeless?
I didn’t inform my family of any of it. I didn’t want them to worry. If my mom has a little bit of stress, it could kill her. I didn’t want my mom or sisters to feel any stress or worry about me. I didn’t want them to feel bad for me. I need to be strong and I don’t need anyone to feel bad, because they need to be strong too.
What are your plans for the future Mortisha? You’re sitting here and you’re 19 years old, you’ve completed the 11th grade, but as you look ahead with the responsibility of a child, what do you envision as of next year?
I’m going to Youth Build which is a place that helps you with your GED. My sister just graduated from there. From her whole process being there, she’s now a certified construction work, she’s a first aid, she got her driver’s license and her GED. That’s what I want to do. I want to become a construction worker, I want to become a first aid, I want to get my driver’s license. That would be something really cool. But then when I get done with school, I want to go into cosmetology for horror films. I love horror films. That’s something I’d love to do. Doing makeup for horror films. Dead skin and blood.
Mortisha, you mentioned a few minutes ago about being homeless, having a baby and having a boyfriend. Walk us through that. That is something that has impacted you and will carry forward through your adult life. Here you are in Grand Rapids, a homeless teenage, tell us about that.
After my mom left when I was 17, I had to find a place to stay. I found different places to stay on different nights. A year and a half after being homeless I found out I was pregnant. Remember, I stayed with my boyfriend for two years. When I found out I was pregnant, I thought that was going to change him and make things better, but it actually made things worse. He constantly told me I should get an abortion and that we weren’t ready, but I’m not going to kill a kid just because I’m not ready and you’re gonna be selfish. I’m going to have this kid and I’m going to do everything I can to make this right. Well, nine months later, here comes my daughter. I had to have a C-section because she got stuck in my pelvic bone. Being a first time mom and never having a C-section was scary.
He would never help me. My boyfriend never helped me with the baby. At that time, I was taking care of two families. The family I was living with had three kids that I was taking care of because the mother didn’t do anything besides sit on her bed and be on Facebook. So I took care of their kids and my newborn baby. My baby daddy didn’t help out with the our baby either because the crying would get to him and he would go insane and not take care of her.
Elaborate on your boyfriend a little bit. You mentioned that he beat you.
Yes, he beat me everyday. When I was 4 months pregnant, he raped me because he was blackout drunk. He told me he didn’t remember, but I told him I did. I wasn’t the one doing drugs or getting blackout drunk. I remember all of it. I was sober for nine months. He constantly called me a liar and denied what he did.
So why did you stick with this guy?
I didn’t know where to go. He said he was homeless before. That’s one thing I can say that he did. He kept me safe, he made sure I ate everyday, and he kept me warm. That’s the only positive thing that happened when I was homeless.
Were you afraid?
I was scared! I was so scared because I didn’t know if I was going to get jumped, raped, or die. Especially during the winter. These past two winters were crazy with all the snow.
So what was the turning point? You found an apartment and had your daughter, but you lived there until that fell apart and you had to get out.
Yeah, after that I stayed in Mel Trotters for three months and from there I found this amazing guy. I never knew a guy as amazing as him existed. He helped me through so much and got me out of situations that I couldn’t get myself out of. I am very blessed that I met this man.
When you look back on your childhood Morticia, what is your saddest memory?
That would have to be when my baby sister was raped. That was the saddest thing because I was in still in school at the time and my sister brought me into the bedroom and said that grandpa is downstairs with Nina doing dirty things. So I went downstairs to the basement and said something and he got off of her. I told Nina to get upstairs and we locked ourselves in the bedroom until my mom got home from work.
Was he your mother’s father?
Was this a first time event or something that happened before?
I heard it happened in the past but I had never seen it firsthand. So, when I got home from school and saw it, I was furious. I also felt guilt on myself because I felt I could’ve stopped it.
And then what happened? Did anyone tell on grandpa?
Do you know if anything like that happened again?
No, after a little while my grandpa got really sick. His muscles and bones basically stopped working. He was a lot like a vegetable. So, me and my sisters had to help take care of him. We had to pick him up from the chair and carry him to the potty. I helped take care of this man who hurt my family.
So nobody told your mother what he had done?
No, we all told her. My sister actually took my other sister to a movie to get her out of the house so we could tell our mom one on one.
How did your mother receive that?
She was scared and furious. My grandpa was 70 at the time so she didn’t feel like she could really do anything.
Besides what happened with your grandpa, is there anything you wish didn’t happen with your family?
I don’t know, more than anything I wish my family was back together. I want my family to be back together so bad. Our family is spread out everywhere do to living arrangements. We don’t get to see each other much, but now that I have my own place, my younger sister comes over every now and then to get together. She’s actually coming over today!
You’ve walked us through your plan for the immediate future, and those are all great goals and I hope they workout, but where do you see yourself in 3-5 years?
I see myself running my own horror shop that has makeup and costumes. Something like the Kostume Room, but a little different from that. I’ve also always wanted to run my own gothic, metal bar. That’s something that I really want to do because I’ve never seen one of those in Grand Rapids.
Mortisha, thank you for sharing your story with us today. You have a lot of responsibilities and some lofty goals for yourself. If you keep your nose down and have people around you who encourage you, you’ll be able to reach them all. We wish you nothing but the best!