Location: Sunnyside, Queens
Rent: $560 (rent stabilized)
Square feet: 550
Occupants: Pat Connelly (social worker, director of Jewish Care Services, Rego Park); Leandra Jimenez (fashion marketing major, New York City Technical College); two cats
Here we are in Sunnyside, where I bet it never rains. The living room is cool celadon green. The pre-war building has mainly Romanian and Armenian residents, though it used to be German and Irish like all of Sunnyside. It’s not far from the 1920s garden-housing community where Lewis Mumford and Perry Como once lived. Pat, you came here 22 years ago to stay with your mother after your father died. He was a Queens midtown bridge and tunnel officer. Then your mother died. Leandra, you arrived two and a half years ago when you were 15. You have a huge bedroom with stuffed animals and perfume bottles. How did you get here? My mother kicked me out of the house when I was 13. We had a fight. She decided she didn’t want me to live with her. This was in Washington Heights. I went to stay at a friend’s, but she started hiding my clothes so I had to move. I went to another friend. I slept under her bed so her mother couldn’t find me. I had nowhere to go. I stayed in a hospital and pretended to be waiting for a patient. I was attending Seward Park High School. I went to my aunt’s house for two weeks, my mother’s friend’s for three months, then my cousin’s in New Jersey. She found these St. Joseph’s nuns in Queens. They set up a meeting with my mother. My mother was very enthused about me living with them. I stayed four months with three nuns, a senile old lady, and four dogs. They enrolled me in St. Joseph High School. I was doing very well, but I had an asthma attack for the first time in a long time. I went to the hospital.
A social worker thought you should go into the foster care system. The first home was in the projects in East New York. I was the only light-skinned little girl walking around there. The woman I lived with was loud and obnoxious. She put a lock on the refrigerator so I couldn’t take her food. The elevator was filthy. During all the moving, a lot of my clothes were stolen. I only had like two pairs of pants, a comb, some gel. Then I lived in a two-family house, a brownstone. It was decent, homey. But this lady was the biggest blabbermouth. She bragged about being a foster mother. Then she started getting mad at her husband, saying he was too nice to me, bringing me fruit all the time. I don’t think he meant anything. Once again I was kicked out. The agency found this lady in Harlem. I was the only Hispanic. She had four foster care children, five of us in one room. By then I’d saved enough money. I was working in a pizza place 40 hours a week, going to school 40 hours, tuition cost $280. I rented a studio, Washington Heights, $425 a month. It had this crusty little cot. It was a drug spot. One night guys came banging on my door. I left and slept on the streets until I found a room for $380.
The agency sent an investigator. I said, I’ll only go back to foster care if I can meet a person I can live with. [Pat] So she could screen them. [Leandra] I just didn’t want to be thrown in any house, like a North Shore animal kitty. I’d moved over 16 times. My counselor spoke to an old friend of Pat’s. [Pat]…who I told I’d recently lost my mother. I was having a difficult time living alone. She asked if I’d be interested. I’d never thought about being a foster parent in my entire life. I’d always wanted to have lots of children. It just didn’t happen. So we set up a meeting. [Leandra] I fell in love with Pat. [Pat] She also said I talked too much. [Leandra] She was a chatterbox. [Pat] I wanted her to know everything about me. So the next day the super said a young girl came by and left her things in the basement. I became an official foster parent, six weeks of training. [Leandra] I got the big bedroom because Pat doesn’t like big spaces. [Pat] Yes I do. I just wanted her to have the bigger room. [Leandra] Would you rather have the big room? [Pat] No, no, where would you put all your clothes? [Leandra] You’re right.