Even if 1996 had never occurred, James would be an extraordinary man. A Navy veteran, he wed the love of his life and enjoyed 18 years of marital bliss before she died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage. He fathered a boy born with physical disabilities and extreme autism, and cared for him for almost two decades before being forced to place him in the violent ward of a psychiatric hospital.
James has two bachelor's degrees and taught special education for 22 years. But in 1994, his life started on a toxic, horror-movie decline. First, he was legally separated from his second wife. The next year, a hurricane destroyed his Florida home and almost claimed his life. And in November 1996, a car accident tore James apart, hospitalizing him for months and brutally rearranging his body. The veteran, special ed teacher, father and widower was now jobless and homeless, with a damaged body and hurt spirit.
Eventually, he moved to Santa Fe and found a job selling newspapers at the intersection of Osage Ave. and Hopi Road (where you can still see him today). Even after his hip gave out, he continued to sell papers: "I've [been] very motivated, I tell you," he says with humor. But then he hurt his back, and despite his best efforts, James found himself struggling to make ends meet.
Cue Santa Fe Need and Deed, an organization that pairs homeless people with Santa Feans who want to help [cover story, Aug. 8: "Homeless in Santa Fe"]. Need and Deed matched James with Carol DeCosta, a Santa Fean who understood his plight better than most.
DeCosta had her own devastating car accident in 2004, which left her unable to continue her 30-year career as a paralegal. She also developed severe rheumatoid arthritis, and soon found herself struggling to pay the rent. Thankfully, her "landlords were saints"—their cooperation and DeCosta's experience in the legal field allowed her to postpone paying her debts until she got back on her feet. With such a background, it only made sense for her to join Need and Deed.
"I read the first story that the Reporter wrote and was inspired, so I went to the first meeting [of SF Need and Deed] back in February. It spoke to me, and I realized I had something to contribute," DeCosta says. "The problem [of homelessness] is huge and nationwide. But this is where we live."
DeCosta now works regularly with James, not only as a sponsor, but also as a trusted adviser, occasional chauffer and friend. She's helped him get a cellphone, a para-transit license, dental surgery and, next year, the hip replacement surgery he's needed for the 16 years since his accident. He's also in line for housing.
"Carol took me to about six of these low-income housing projects around town," James says. "We found one, and I'm hopefully moving in on [Aug.] 31."
"He is moving in. There's no probably," DeCosta interrupts. "It's a handicap-accessible apartment with energy-efficient appliances and his own washer and dryer, and only $590 a month for the rent. "
"And it's all because of Carol," James says with a grin.