Linwood “Gato” Martinez-Bentley, (62) grew up in Washington, DC in a strict military family. To help channel his boundless energy, Linwood’s mother connected him with the performing arts. Linwood quickly mastered percussion, flute, singing and dancing.
While Linwood’s musical skills were a point of pride for his family, his opposition to the Vietnam War was not. Linwood’s unique perspective–questioning the war and participating in protests–got him kicked out of his home at the early age of 15.
With the help of many friends, Linwood was able to complete high school and then graduate from UDC with a double major in early childhood education and political science.
Linwood had a long career as a multi-cultural educator, working with children here in Washington, DC and also in Central America. Life was interesting and good.
But in 2014, the bottom suddenly dropped out of Linwood’s world. His marriage ended. His job ended. He tried living with friends, but that soon ended. Linwood found himself homeless.
“I did the streets much better than I did the shelters,” Linwood recalls. For 18 months he lived outside, setting up a hammock so he didn’t have to sleep on the ground.
During this time Linwood received meals and support from several organizations. He came to Miriam’s Kitchen occasionally, but it was hard to come up with the transportation money to travel to Foggy Bottom. Looking back, Linwood says, “Friends couldn’t stop my trajectory going down.”
Last fall, Linwood’s daughter pleaded with her mother, “Please don’t let my father spend another winter on the streets.” So in December he went to live temporarily with his ex-wife in southern Virginia. For a few months, Linwood would be out of the cold.
Before he went to Virginia, Linwood had been matched with housing through the coordinated entry program. When an opening became available in the Girard Street building, MK case managers did some detective work to track him down and share the good news. Linwood was able to get back to DC and his MK case manager, Malika, helped him to complete all the necessary applications and paperwork. He passed the background check and was approved for an apartment!
Linwood signed his lease on July 1 and moved into his apartment on July 7. To help him get settled, Malika took him shopping at Walmart for household essentials. Linwood even had a housewarming party on August 6th where friends and family (including his two daughters and two grand-daughters) came to share his joy in his new home. “I call it the Miracle on Girard Street, not the Miracle on 34th Street. My story makes believers out of non-believers that housing is possible for everyone.”
Now that he is settled into his own home, Linwood is happy to have some peace and quiet. “I’m clearing out the rooms of clutter in my head.” And he’s full of ideas. “I have dreams – just like MLK said. I want to help people rise out of poverty.”
Reflecting on his experience of homelessness, Linwood has some clear opinions about how we need to move forward. “We’re being very short sighted in how we deal with the issue of homelessness. People think I did something wrong in order to be homeless. They think it’s my fault. Homeless people are shunned, even as others allow gentrification and businesses to grow and thrive. We don’t need just crisis intervention, but crisis elimination.”