by Brian Davis
Sometimes life can be so unfair while other times justice prevails. Savetta Durrah is a model of both being true. She had just become stable and comfortable in her life when she died. She had continued to struggle with illness and a body that was giving out on her; setting the example for her extended family. We will never read her book, which was never completed. We did get to view of glimpse of Savetta with commentaries in the Homeless Grapevine, but never got the full picture.
Savetta Durrah passed on the day that her portrait began to hang in the cig gallery right down the street from her apartment. She would have loved that. In fact, I am sure that she would have scheduled the couple of hundred neighbors to attend the event had she been well. Her sister, Rosalyn Durrah, said, “She got up every day despite the pain, and she inspired others to get up.”
Savetta had come to the Homeless Grapevine in 1996 with her tornado personality after sinking into a state of homelessness. After successfully starting a re-entry program in Washington D.C. and developing a support network of advocates. She always wanted to be a writer, and was attracted to the freedom we allow our volunteers. We had a young staff that Savetta bonded with, and had a rough time seeing them end their year of service and move on.
Savetta left for a period of time, and came back setting her mind to stability. After staying in the basement of an abusive landlord, she pushed her way into the Bridging the Gap program, and fought to have the Housing Authority hear her appeal. Savetta was originally denied housing, and she successfully negotiated the cumbersome appeals process. In fact, by the end of the appeal hearing at least two of the CMHA employees had signed up for a subscription to the Grapevine.
She also found a job at the Downtown Starbucks where she became the matriarch to the youthful staff. Mark Pannitto, Starbuck’s supervisor, very much enjoyed working with Savetta. He said, “She was fantastic with the customers, fun loving, and she liked to have a good time. She had a good sense of humor.” Savetta worked 4 days a week and kept the lines moving and the dining area clean. “We really loved her, and she will be missed,” Pannitto said.
Durrah had fought for housing, found a job, and was writing on a regular basis before fate took her. She died of natural causes, with her body giving out on her. Her sister remembers going to all the family picnics, and they always had a good time. Savetta had two children: Rashaad who is 23 and a daughter Andrea who had previously died. Savetta was the third oldest of eight children. Both her parents died while she was young, and she was raised by her grandmother.
Savetta left eight grandchildren. She had a lust for life that was expressed in her full powerful laugh, which Rosalyn, her sister, also seems to have inherited. Rosalyn said, “She would not let anything hold her down. She always got up. She won in a lot of ways. She was a winner.” Rosalyn said that Savetta was an inspiration with her beautiful pen. She loved to debate and will always remember the “Me and You” that became Savetta’s signature saying.
Rosalyn characterized Savetta’s problem as “depression and downturns in her life,” which led her to the streets. Along with writing for the Grapevine, she was writing a book. She had contributed stories to the Call and Post. Savetta was nearly paralyzed from back pain, and was sick for a long time. Some called her Sam or Samantha. She was very creative, fun person to be around, and always left an impression on people according to her sister.
Copyright to the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio 2003.