Debra Holt: Angel of Mercy to a Homeless Stranger

Debra Holt, who came to the aid of a homeless stranger

PATERSON, NJ - Debra Holt went to the city's human services building to submit a job application on a recent Tuesday morning. As it turned out, she found a job for herself, just not the kind that comes with a paycheck. 

Holt, a 50-year-old breast cancer survivor who has lived in Paterson most of her life, was sitting at 125 Ellison Street, waiting in an office when she overheard a woman nearby having a conversation. "I caught an earful,'' said Holt. "All I had to hear was her say she was homeless. Then I just did what I had to do.''
What Holt did was above and beyond what most people would do. She made it her business that day, October 26, to find a place to stay for a stranger and her 16-year-old son. Holt's mission started in the morning and ended late that night.
"I wasn't surprised,'' said Councilwoman Vera Ames-Garmes, referring to Holt's efforts. "She works with me when I feed the homeless and collect coats. It's how we were brought up. We had the same kind of upbringing.''

The first thing Holt did was approach the woman outside the city offices. "I asked if she was about to become homeless or was she homeless already,'' Holt said. "She said she was sleeping in her car with her son. I said, 'Oh, no, you can't be sleeping in your car. It's too dangerous out here.'"
So Holt took the woman to Eva's Village to see if the non-profit organization had any beds open in its shelter. But there was nothing available, Holt said. Instead, she received a referral sheet listing other shelter programs. Holt took out her cell phone and started dialing. "I must have called 20 different places and every one there was no room,'' said Holt.
The day was getting on, and Holt had to report for work soon for her afternoon shift. She didn't want to abandon the woman and her son. She decided to let the strangers stay at her home on Carroll Street while she went to work. Was she worried about taking such a risk? "I was and I wasn't,'' said Holt. "I said a prayer and asked God to guide me.''
After work, Holt called Ames-Garnes. The councilwoman told her to come to city hall that evening. There was a city council scheduled that night and Ames-Garnes suggested that Holt seek help from Paterson's elected officials. During the public portion of the meeting, Holt stood up before the council to explain the situation. All this while, the homeless woman and her son remained at Holt's home.
Holt's story caught the council's attention. Council members made some calls. The city's relocation officer, Dennis Rolon, came from home and arranged to have the woman and her son stay in an area motel, with funds provided through a homeless assistance program. 
"I talked to her last week,'' Holt said during a November 7 interview, speaking of the stranger she helped. "She's still at the hotel. She's doing okay.''
Ames-Garnes said Holt's good deed should serve as a model for others. "The compassion that folks used to have for other folks, most folks don't have that anymore,'' said the councilwoman.
"If I was in the right place at the right time, I'd do it all again,'' said Holt. "I believe that if I needed help, someone would do the same for me.''

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