Senate Tenant Reads Poem at Homeless Persons Memorial
Jurema Ferreira never expected to read one of her poems in front of an audience. In fact, until recently, she never expected to write one.
Ferreira lives at The Senate, one of our supportive housing residences for formerly unhoused people. She remembers when a staff member invited her to a poetry-writing class. “I said ‘Oh no, I don’t know how to write a poem,’ she recalled. “And she said, ‘Everybody knows!”
Ferreira went—and discovered she liked it. Her poems won praise from the teacher and fellow students. Soon, she was writing in her room on her own time: “I turn off the TV so it’s very quiet. I never know what’s going to happen. When I hold the pencil and paper it starts to come—imagination sings in my mind.”
When Care for the Homeless put out a call for a poem to be read at its annual Homeless Persons Memorial in December, Ferreira jumped at the opportunity. A dedicated Buddhist, she says her poem, called simply Homelessness, is about belief: “It’s about, you really need to have faith in your life. If you don’t have faith, you have nothing.”
Ferreira was born in Rio de Janeiro. Her family was always creative; her older brother did wardrobe for TV shows, her father drew, her mother baked. Ferreira herself is a photographer. She moved to New York City in the ‘90s to join her brother, who was working in television here. She took photos for him; then, to get her green card, she worked in kitchens around the country.
When her mother fell ill she moved back to Brazil. But starting over proved difficult: “I tried to find a job but it was so hard at my age. So I decided to come back. And I was missing America so much. I love Brazil but it wasn’t the same to live there. It’s like a different world!”
She returned to New York to live with a friend. When that fell through, she found herself homeless. She wound up living in shelters for a few months. In one, she shared a room with 15 people while quietly getting up at 4 AM to go to classes to become a home health aide. Finally, she was offered a room at The Senate.
Ferreira has nothing but praise for Senate staff—especially her case manager, Wanda Harris: “She’s like my godmother. I love her!” Now retired, she’s an enthusiastic attendee of Senate activities ranging from writing to Current Affairs group to art classes.
Luz Lorenzana Twigg, a graduate playwriting student at Columbia, leads the poetry class at The Senate. She volunteers through Columbia Artist/Teachers program. “Josie has a rich imagination – she’s very excited, very kind and very intuitive with her words and ideas,” she said. “She doesn’t just write descriptive sentences. She’s aware that she’s communicating a whole concept or idea to people and it comes across in stunning and sometimes heartbreaking ways.”