‘There in the wind’: Dunkirk woman shares past struggles with homelessness
In just one year, all of the support Lori Foster had come to rely on in her life was gone.
Her longtime friend and housemate, Bambie Martucci, died unexpectedly May 4, 2020, at the age of 57. And then a day to the month to the year later, on June 5, 2021, her wife, Kelly, died at the age of 56 due to kidney failure.
To Foster, 54, the upheaval was almost too much to bear. After Martucci’s death, and with the financially smothering arrival of COVID-19, the Dunkirk woman no longer had a place to live.
“I lost two significant people in my life during this and that’s what I’m trying to recover from now, you know,” Foster told the OBSERVER. “And I had my wife’s ashes, but I couldn’t have a funeral, nothing.”
After reading about the recent increase in homelessness in Chautauqua County, Foster offered to share her own story. She described her nearly lifelong struggles with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia; the sudden loss of two crutches in her life — her wife and Martucci, with whom they all shared living space; and the need for more shelters and better housing accommodations for the homeless.
“It does get better, but you got to fight like hell to get where you want to go in life,” Foster said. “And I’m just looking at all these people in Jamestown. I look at people in our parks; they’re in our parks and nobody looks at them because they’re afraid to.
“You can become homeless, anybody can. Anybody.
And then you’re out there in the wind with no help and nobody to talk to. It takes an extraordinary kind of person to really get through that, and a lot of people aren’t strong enough.”
Foster grew up in Pittsburgh before moving to Western New York at the age of 16 to be with her father.
She has resided in the Dunkirk area for the last 32 years.
“Prior to the pandemic I had a wonderful home on Fourth Street and people to enjoy it with,” she said.
Kelly Davis-Foster, suffering from the ill effects of renal failure and receiving dialysis treatment, was placed in an adult care facility. Foster, who had been paying rent, found herself homeless in the summer of 2020 after Martucci died suddenly.
For about eight months she stayed at a local motel while her wife remained at the adult care facility. With the assistance of Chautauqua Opportunities, Foster moved into an apartment community in Fredonia; she was in the laborious, and often frustrating, process of having her wife moved when Kelly died a year after Martucci.
Foster admitted to contemplating suicide more than once after her wife’s passing.
“You’re living by yourself with nobody around you and you have nobody, you know, to talk to,” she said. “It was crazy.”
She empathizes with the people she’s seen at Memorial Park, many of whom use electrical outlets to charge their phones. She’s also witnessed homeless individuals at the gazebo in Washington Park and in downtown Fredonia.
According to Chautauqua Opportunities, more than 650 homeless individuals were identified in Chautauqua County in the first eight months of the year. In a recent interview, Josiah Lamp, housing director of Chautauqua Opportunities, said, “We are definitely seeing an increase in homelessness in Chautauqua County coming out of the pandemic.”
Much of the unsheltered discussion in recent months has taken place in Jamestown. The crisis, expected to get worse with winter approaching, was discussed at a public safety forum while Jamestown’s mayor has called on local churches to consider ways to help the homeless.
The problem is a countywide one, Foster said.
In addition to struggles with her mental health Foster said she, like many experiencing homelessness, used drugs to cope. However, she scoffs at any notion that all homeless abuse drugs, drink alcohol and commit crimes.
“It’s a stigma that homeless people are not wanting to work and just want handouts, they use drugs and alcohol and commit crimes,” she said. “Some do these things, but lots of people with homes and jobs still drink and use drugs. So, it’s not just one classification of a certain group of individuals.”
Foster, after experiencing homelessness twice in the last two years, has found stability in her life. A mutual friend introduced her to Connie, and the pair now live together with a couple of dogs in an apartment on Park Avenue in Dunkirk.
Foster believes Connie came along at the right time and “saved my life.”
But she knows others aren’t as fortunate and wants to highlight the lack of homeless shelters, especially for men, available locally and the need for more long-term housing options.
She wants to meet with Dunkirk Mayor Wilfred Rosas to share her story and learn what city officials are doing to recognize the ongoing homeless crisis. She noted Mayor Eddie Sundquist in Jamestown and his willingness to address the problem as a positive first step.
“These people, they had jobs,” she said of the unsheltered. “They had homes. They had friends. They had a lot. Over a million people died during the pandemic and my wife was one of them. And instead of feeling bad for it, I want to do something in her honor, in Bambie’s honor, for the homeless.
“I’m not afraid to say it. I was one of them. I know all these people. And before I said, ‘Oh, we’ll never become homeless.’ Well, I did, and it was the worst time of my life. I wish I was dead during that time.”