In fall of 2012, Maria L. Fortez had all but run out of options.
After a foot injury resulted in her not being able to work, the then 54-year-old quickly found herself behind on rent. She applied for disability, but the payments were not enough to tide her over. Fortez, who had worked her whole life, mostly in administrative jobs, began calling shelters but heard the same thing: We don’t have any room.
Desperate, Fortez called Bay Area Rescue Mission, a faith-based organization based in Richmond that offers emergency shelter for men, women and families, a food pantry and job-training program. C’mon down, the friendly voice on the other end of the line told her.
Fortez moved into the women’s shelter, with the goal of finding work and getting her own place as soon as possible.
But life had a different plan for her. Within less than two months, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and needed a mastectomy. The news was devastating, and the only thing Fortez could think of was running away.
“I just wanted to go and get the biggest hit I could, something that would just end my life on the spot,” Fortez recalled. She was saved when the bus she was waiting for arrived before she could act on her impulse.
Instead of seeking comfort in drugs — as she had done for many years — Fortez decided to enroll in a year-long transitional living program offered by the organization.