Homeless women in Denver: Struggles of an undocumented immigrant seeking shelter

Cardwell recently worked at a fresh produce center in Denver, but ended up getting sick and lost her job. She is looking for work again. Guzman says that due to her undocumented status, she can't secure any kind of job or enroll in any programs.

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Photo by Anthony Camera
Erica Guzman, left, Teresa Turner and Stefanie Cardwell at the Gathering Place.
It's hard to turn things around in their lives given the daily anxieties of finding shelter, Cardwell says.

"The stress actually makes me kind of bipolar. I'll be happy one moment, and then all of the sudden, I'll start thinking and then I'll get teary eyed or really get mad and kinda go off on her just for the stupidest stuff," she says. "I hate stress. I honestly hate it."

Cardwell is estranged from her father, but is close to her mother who is back in Mississippi.

"I would do anything in my power to have my mom next to me," she says.

Guzman isn't in contact with her family right now, either, and says that she has no choice but to be homeless at this point.

"It's very depressing...knowing that my mom is [close] and I can't even go to her for help," she says, explaining that her mother has been emotionally abusive to her. "It wouldn't be a good environment for me.... To actually go back there, that's more depressing than being in this situation that I'm in now. If I'm homeless, I feel like I can do it on my own, I can build myself up."

She adds, "It motivates me.... I don't want to be like this forever. I want to make something of myself."

Guzman and Cardwell say that one day, they would like to run a shelter for women. When Guzman was five, her family struggled with homelessness and it was one of the worst experiences of her life, she says.

"They separated us and I wasn't allowed to be with my mother," she recalls. "I remember sleeping outside and being terrified."

That is why someday she hopes to run a shelter that accommodates families.

"We want to open a shelter...and give back," Guzman says. "I dream about doing it."

Since the two have become homeless, they've also befriended a woman named Teresa Turner, 49, who recently become homeless and goes through the lottery process with them at the Gathering Place. Turner says she wants to help the two on their homeless shelter one day.

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Sam Levin
Stefanie Cardwell
During those stressful lotteries, they stick together -- and Cardwell even lets women at the Delores Project store their belongings in her car.

"I feel like a baby all over again," says Turner, who lost her housing a few months ago. "I've got twenty-somethings telling me where to go and what to do. I was street-smart once, but now I'm 49, and I'm not so street smart."

Having support from other women and finding programs through the Delores Project and the Gathering Place have been crucial, Turner says.

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Sam Levin
Teresa Turner.
"They've taught me that I'm stronger than I think I am and that I can get stuff done," she says. "I thought in the beginning when I became homeless, there were tons of programs and shelters -- things that help you get clothes, food, blankets...and I got out there and I realized there isn't really very many places to go."

She adds, "I'm learning a lot and I'm growing a lot."

More from our News archive: "Homeless women in Denver: Julie Hale tells her story about the struggle to survive"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at

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