Woman, once homeless, gives back through art
Nine years ago, the crumbling walls and shattered windows of the abandoned Virginia Electric and Power Co. building near downtown Fredericksburg served as an occasional shelter for a homeless woman on nights when she had nowhere else to stay.
Today, that building, the former Embrey Power Station, is Becki Heye’s favorite spot to practice photography after overcoming drug and alcohol addiction, depression and homelessness.
She snaps photos of scenery and people around the world, from as far as Africa to local Fredericksburg buildings. She tries to capture moments that she wants to remember, and to illustrate God’s words within her art.
Heye’s art will be on display in the atrium of the Salem Church Library starting July 2. Library goers will be able to see 28 framed photographs hanging on the walls of the Spotsylvania building’s entrance for about a month.
The Central Rappahannock Regional Library features a new artist monthly at four of its branches: Headquarters Library, Salem Church branch, Porter branch, and England Run branch.
Her works are part of a book that Heye, 64, is writing and illustrating with her photos.
Two photographs, “Beauty in Brokenness” and “Stained Glass,” show cracked windows in the old power plant, with amber light shining through the mosaic of glass and empty space.
“Anybody can relate to that,” Heye said. “Anybody has a brokenness in their life at one point or another.”
With a shock of blue hair, a friendly smile and bright brown eyes, she doesn’t look like someone who has been broken.
But in February 2005, Heye found herself homeless in Fredericksburg. Clinical depression caused by the trauma of a violent childhood led to her homelessness, Heye said.
“I had all this unforgiveness, shame and guilt so deep-rooted,” Heye said. “I couldn’t get it out on my own.”
Heye grew up in Northern Virginia, and she worked for the Nature Conservancy until she lost her job in the mid-2000s.
Shortly after, Heye had exhausted all of her financial resources, and after her truck was stolen in early 2005, she started living on the streets of Fredericksburg.
She found her first bit of help with recovery at a free meal.
Volunteers from New Generation Outreach serve hot meals on Princess Anne Street in downtown Fredericksburg every Sunday at 3 p.m.
After the meal, the people who come to eat are served up spiritual food, said the Rev. John Reid, a pastor at New Generation Outreach.
At first, Heye wasn’t as receptive to the message of the church as she was to the nourishing food the volunteers handed out.
“They would feed us with the word of God,” Heye said. “Did I want that? No. I wanted food. But it stuck with me.”
Heye said her stubborn will and hopelessness kept her on the street until she fell very ill.
In January 2007, Heye succumbed to the physical stress of living on the streets, malnutrition and drug and alcohol abuse. She fell into a coma.
When she awoke, her brother sent her to the Walter Hoving Home, a faith-based residential home for women in Garrison, N.Y.
For one year, Heye struggled through a rehabilitation program that helped her beat addiction. But during that year she wasn’t allowed to have any form of medication, which posed a problem for treating her clinical depression.
A dark cloud of sadness and despair loomed over Heye. One day, her depression threatened to send her out of the recovery program and into a local New York hospital for treatment.
“I knew if I went to the hospital, they’d give me my meds and send me out the door,” Heye said.
She would not be able to return to the program from the hospital.
That same day, another woman in the program took Heye into her arms to pray for her. In this woman’s arms, Heye said she accepted Jesus into her heart and became a Christian.
“The Lord was saying that I was a child of God and that I belong to Him,” Heye said. “I felt instant relief, a healing inside me.”
Through her dedication to her new faith, Heye found a way to overcome her addictions and depression.
After finishing her time at the Walter Hoving Home, Heye spent the next several years witnessing to women going through the program and went on two mission trips to Africa.
She began writing a book and taking photos to illustrate it in order to share God’s words with others.
After returning from her second mission trip, Heye knew she had another journey in front of her.
She had to come back to walk the streets where she once lived, but this time she was recovered and finding fulfillment as an artist.
Heye returned to Fredericksburg in 2013 to take care of her mother’s home, where she continues to work on her writing and photography.
She calls on her new-found faith when she sums up her success overcoming homelessness.
“The Lord knit us together in our mothers’ wombs,” Heye said. “And I can imagine Him knitting back together my heart that was so broken.”
Katie Shepherd 540/374-5417