I never knew Valerie Louise Godoy. I can only tell you three things about her for certain:
1. She was homeless.
2. Her death was caused by blunt force trauma. Her body was found at the BMX park across from Duncan Park on 9th Street near my work. In fact, the morning she was discovered, if you stood on the top steps outside one of the buildings on our campus, you could see her body stretched out on a park bench.
3. A man, Jeffrey Lee Howard, was charged with her death yesterday. No details regarding the case have been released.
I mention all this because I think about Valerie almost every single day. I recently moved so close to work that I walk each day. Every morning I turn on Shoal Creek Road from 12th street, taking the walkway under the bridge that is 10th Street. There is almost always a man in his 40s looking down on his luck, talking to himself underneath it. Often there are two men chatting, in the bushes just off the sidewalk. The walkway leads into Duncan Park where several older men sleep around an area that looks like it as a fire pit. They lay cardboard on the ground to sleep on. A picnic table is nearby and sometimes people lay their belongings out there. I cross the street to walk on the side of the road with the BMX park. One of the last trees of the park has a laminated picture of Valerie asking for more information about her death.
The picture, the only picture the news seems to have of her, is a mug shot. She looks beat up and rough. Hardly any information is available on her life. She graduated Bowie High School and worked occasionally as a chef. Valerie was only 34 when she died although her face shows a much older, harder life. Her death has encouraged Austin advocates to push for more women’s homeless shelters and better protection for the city’s homeless women.
But in the end, Valerie was somebody’s daughter, sister, girlfriend or mother. And whenever I pass her photo, I can only wonder if someone somewhere is waiting for her to come home.