Streets to Success: Formerly homeless South Floridians are not just surviving – they’re thriving

(WSVN) - Homeless Awareness Day in Miami-Dade County is Nov. 7, and five South Floridians are recalling their former day to day lives.

The men and women who sat down in front of 7News cameras are smart and successful people who all share a similar past. It’s something you would never know just by looking at them.

Alex Fiallo, formerly homeless: “I was sleeping on bus benches. I slept under a bridge one time in Overtown. I was too high, so I went down there and slept there.”

Price Destinobles, formerly homeless: “At the age of thirteen my mother got incarcerated.”

Conlyn Banks, formerly homeless: “I have anxiety and depression.”

Ashley Foster, formerly homeless: “I wanted to commit suicide.”

Doreen Bezner, formerly homeless: “I was sleeping anywhere the drugs were.”

Fiallo, Destinobles, Banks, Foster and Bezner were all homeless.

Bezner showed us what she used to look like after living under a bridge on 79th Street for 23 years. She was a prostitute and drug addict.

Doreen Bezner: “When I came in, I was 87 pounds with six nubs in my mouth and one pant leg on because that is all I could fit into.”

The Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust gave her counseling, a safe place to live and the support she needed to rebuild her life.

She recently graduated with honors from Miami-Dade College.

Doreen Bezner: “I had to write three letters to the dean just to get into college because of my past. It cost me forty some dollars to get my background check, but I did it. With the Homeless Trust, if they did not grab me, then I would be out there doing the same thing all over again.”

After a life in and out of jail and living on the streets, Fiallo now works in sales, owns a home and married a school teacher.

Alex Fiallo: “If it wasn’t for the Homeless Trust, I don’t think I would be here, living such a wonderful life today.”

Destinobles was able to get a master’s degree and currently works as a web developer.

Price Destinobles: “I’m super blessed, super thankful.”

Foster, a Navy veteran, was once living in a car with her two kids. She now has two degrees in international business and business administration.

She remembers when she showed up to a shelter with her children and refused to leave when they told her it was full.

Ashley Foster: “I literally sat in someone’s office one day and I told them, ‘You are going to call the police on me because I’m not leaving here until you get me help.'”

These are just a few of the thousands of success stories.

According to the Miami-Dade County Homeless Census, when the county started counting the homeless in 1996, there were 8,000 people living on the streets.

Twenty-three years later, that number has gone down to 1,148.

Ron Book, Miami-Dade Homeless Trust: ‘We know we are not done. The end is in sight in our community and I don’t think it takes another 25 years to get there.”

The Miami-Dade Homeless Trust has become successful at getting people back on their feet and finding them jobs, but some shelters are full and the big challenge right now is finding affordable housing for the homeless.

Ron Book: “We need you community. We need you more now than we have ever needed you.”

The Homeless Trust needs landlords to sign up for their RentConnect program. It matches landlords with homeless people and the county guarantees the rent will be paid.

This group of people credit the program for helping them help themselves.

Ashley Foster: “You don’t know how strong you are until you have to go through something you would have never imagined you would have to go through.”

On this Homeless Awareness Day, more than 1,000 people are sleeping on the streets of Miami but Fiallo, Destinobles, Banks, Foster and Bezner are proof that with determination and support, it’s possible to turn your life around.

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