Amy Palmer grew up in East Boston, had a good family, a good childhood, and then, when she was 19 and just starting college, she met heroin.
“I was going to be the one who wouldn’t be controlled by it,” she recalls. “I would control it.”
It was a foolish conceit that derailed her life.
She left college. She stole from her mother. She stole from her sister. She stole from the till at work. She would steal from everybody who mattered to her and then would steal away with heroin and that was all that mattered to her. She had worked since she was 15, but now she couldn’t hold a job.
Heroin is a one-way street that often leads to the street, and that is where Amy lived, or, more precisely, survived for years. Nine years ago, she ended up at the Pine Street Inn, because she had no where else to go.
Then she met a guy, and his grip on her turned out to be stronger than the heroin. They found an apartment in Bay Village and she got clean, taking Suboxone to ward off the cravings. Then their building was condemned and they were back on the street.
She had turned her back on heroin but fell head over heels for vodka. Three pints a day.
Amy wouldn’t go to a shelter. She and her boyfriend became denizens of The Wall, which runs along the outside perimeter of the Boston Public Library at the corner of Dartmouth and Boylston. Mike Bunch, an outreach worker at Pine Street whose orbit includes Copley Square, met her there three years ago.
“At first, Amy wouldn’t even talk to me,” Bunch said.
But the ice gradually melted and Bunch noticed something. So did Shiva Kuczinski, another Pine Street outreach worker.
“She was ready,” Kuczinski said.
Ready to make the leap, from the street to an apartment.
“The biggest piece is whether the person is ready and willing to jump through as many hoops as possible,” Bunch said. “Amy was.”
The biggest hoop was leaving the controlling, unhealthy relationship that for nine years held her back even as she left heroin behind. She ended that relationship last year and things started falling into place.
To get a roof over her head, she had to literally and figuratively get her identity back. Bunch sat with her for hours at the Registry of Motor Vehicles to get an ID. Then they got her last outstanding court case, for shoplifting, resolved.
“I owe my life to Mike,” Amy Palmer said. “He saw something in me I did not see in myself. He brought Shiva in, too. They were my bumper rails. They said, ‘We’re behind you, but you’ve got to take those first steps.’ ”
Bunch, Kuczinski, and another Pine Street worker, Brian Gossling, were with Amy Palmer when she recently signed a lease for an apartment in the South End.
Amy Palmer is living proof that addiction doesn’t always win, that homelessness doesn’t have to be permanent. Where the streets have no name, the people do, and the one named Amy Palmer left the street behind.
She wants to get a job, go back to school, have a normal, even boring life after years of madness and violence and chaos. She wants a kitten. She is 37 and feels like these last 18 years were a pause button that she finally has been able to push.
She still drops by Copley Square to see old friends, the homeless people who call The Wall home. She was talking to one of them the other day and the guy said all he wanted was a shower. So she brought him to her apartment and let him take a nice, hot shower.
“I know everyone can’t be saved,” Amy Palmer said, “but we should try.”