The first thing you notice about LaPorsha Bourne is that she is practically bursting with positive energy and excitement for the future. You would never guess the depth of the challenges she has faced, including being homeless with a young son. While many of us associate homelessness with the person asleep on the subway or asking for change on the street, LaPorsha and her son represent over 70% of the homeless population of New York City: single mothers and their children living in shelters.
LaPorsha’s 29 years have been marked by extraordinary strife and instability: from the ages of 1 1⁄2 to 4 she was in foster care, which she recalls as “some of the most traumatic times of my life.” While she was grateful to then be taken in by her grandmother, she was repeatedly abused in the home by a relative. She describes school as a haven. “It was my getaway. I loved school. I was blessed to have a lot of good teachers from the beginning. I had teachers who believed in me.” A self-described “computer nerd,” LaPorsha pursued a college education after high school, despite the challenges of coordinating classes with a job and a lengthy commute. But her plans were derailed when she became ill with Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome, a painful and dangerous autoimmune disease that causes excessive blood clotting.
Since her diagnosis with AVP, LaPorsha has suffered four episodes of deep vein thrombosis–blood clots that form deep in a vein; pulmonary embolisms in each lung; difficulty breathing; and chronic pain. She requires daily blood thinners and pain medications. “I went from being ambitious and vivacious to a young person doomed with physical limitations.”
Disabled with an infant and living in a dangerous home, LaPorsha sought safety at a domestic violence shelter in the South Bronx. That’s where she and her son came aboard our New York Program’s mobile medical unit and was cared for by Dr. Scott Ikeda. Dr. Ikeda connected her to the hematology department at our South Bronx Health Center, “so I always have someone checking my blood and making sure I am on top of my health.”
LaPorsha praises the ease of getting all of her and her son’s health care at one place. “I just have to send a message to get refills of my prescriptions and the doctor sends them right downstairs and I pick them up.” They helped her son get health insurance, and he continues to be seen by his health care practitioner for regular check-ups. “He’s a healthy boy,” LaPorsha beams. And now that they have moved from the shelter to supportive housing, she is able to cook proper meals to ensure he stays that way.
With her health condition under control, LaPorsha is going to school to become a massage therapist–but that’s just the first step in achieving her ultimate goal of
becoming a holistic health coach. When asked what inspired this path, she replies, “I got tired of seeing us hurting. Everyone is in so much pain and many of us don’t know how to deal with it so we do things like turn to drugs and drinking.” She credits the psychologist she sees weekly at the South Bronx Health Center with where she is today. “She opened me up and gave me an idea of who I am. Having gone through so much trauma, I had no idea how to go about starting. She opened the door for me. I am extremely g rateful for her. She’s very down to earth, and easily relatable: she was adopted and I grew up orphaned.”
LaPorsha and her son now have reliable housing, but there are still thousands of families in New York City sleeping in homeless shelters tonight. As Dr. Ikeda explains, “These families are trying really hard and doing all the things that they’re supposed to do, but it’s just not enough to make ends meet. Homelessness really is a working families issue.” At Children’s Health Fund, we believe that these families, in addition to all the other challenges they face, shouldn’t have the burden of finding consistent, high-quality healthcare. We know that being healthy is a critical component in achieving a secure future.
Please continue to support our efforts so that many others like LaPorsha can overcome health adversity as they strive to overcome homelessness.