She was living near railroad tracks and hadn’t eaten in a few days — a victim of domestic violence praying for a miracle.
Marsha Velasquez, 40, was at a homeless feed at First Christian Church in Fullerton on Feb. 10 with a friend when she met the cop she credits with turning around her life.
Her friend knew she needed help, and also knew that the Fullerton Police Department has a homeless liaison team that specializes in helping people get fresh starts.
So her friend urged her to introduce herself to Officer Cary Tong, who was at the homeless feed.
“How can I help you?” Tong asked Velasquez.
She told him her story.
For years, Velasquez said, her husband had been clean and sober. But he fell off the wagon a few years ago after losing his job as a car painter and began abusing drugs and alcohol.
Then he started physically and verbally abusing her, said Velasquez, who allowed her name and photo to be used for this story. Such victims typically remain anonymous.
Her husband ended up suffering serious injuries in late September after a car hit him when he was riding a bike. He suffered a brain hemorrhage and a stroke.
Despite being victimized, Velasquez visited him at the hospital and sometimes slept in the chapel.
More often, though, she slept outside or in a shed in the back of a relative’s house.
“He (Tong) listened to me, then he asked me if I had a place to go, would I be willing to go right now?” Velasquez said.
All she owned was in a backpack at the hospital where her husband is rehabilitating.
“He (Tong) said that he would take me to the hospital to get my backpack, then he would bring me back to the church so that I could eat until a domestic violence safe shelter called him and said that they were ready for me,” Velasquez said.
Tong drove Velasquez to a train station to wait for the people from the shelter to come get her.
“I told him thank you and gave him a hug and said goodbye,” Velasquez said.
She stayed at the shelter for a few days before Hope Lifted, an agency in Fullerton that provides resources to the homeless and the near homeless, paid for her first month’s rent in an apartment.
Velasquez now is looking for a job as a security officer and is enrolled in a class at Santa Ana College.
“Officer Tong took a chance on a complete stranger and changed my life,” she says, “and I will be forever grateful to him and the Fullerton Police Department for where I am now.”
Editor’s note: Marsha Velasquez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org