Friends and Family Recall Homeless Woman’s Struggle With Addiction

Liz HooperCourtesy of Patricia Thomsen

On Saturday, near the corner of Avenue B and Seventh Street, under a short stretch of blue scaffolding across from Tompkins Square Park, a makeshift bed of cardboard stretched across a few blocks of concrete. At the top – where a pillow would be on most beds – lay a crumpled heap of clothes and a few plastic bags. A solitary votive candle stood in the center of the designated sleeping spot, the flame so feeble that a small gust of wind might have blown it out.

Liz Hooper, 50, a homeless woman, had occupied this sidewalk space for the last six months until she was found dead next to it on Saturday morning, as reported by City Room. Ellen Borakove, a spokesperson for the city medical examiner told The Local that, as of now, the cause of death is still uncertain.

Friends in Tompkins said Ms. Hooper battled an addiction to heroin and often sought out methadone or vodka, substances that she said brought her some relief from the symptoms of withdrawal.

“I’d say, ‘You’re a very nice girl, you don’t need that’,” said Marcella Heald, 40, of the East Village, who befriended Ms. Hooper at the beginning of the summer and greeted her every morning with a type of playground handshake. “She feared she wouldn’t see her children again, thought she’d get off heroin, thought she had a chance, that it would open a door.”

Ms. Hooper was the third oldest of six children, and had five children of her own, said her sister Patricia Thomsen, 45, of New Rochelle, N.Y. Mrs. Thomsen said Ms. Hooper – whose childhood nickname was Betty Ann – had not seen her family in some time, though they were caring for her children.

liz1Chelsia Rose Marcus Liz Hooper’s sleeping station on Avenue B.

“The last time I saw her, she was going through rehab,” Mrs. Thomsen said. “That was a few years ago, when she came to a family reunion. She came with all the kids. That’s the last time I think anyone ever saw her.”

As a child, Ms. Hooper enjoyed bowling with her siblings, and she joined the bowling league of her high school, Mamaroneck H.S. But she soon lost interest in such athletic pursuits, and by the age of 15 started what would become a life-long addiction to heroin. She joined the transient community in the mid-1990s.

Louis Taylor, 60, a chess teacher who is known in Tompkins as “The Chessmonster,” first met Ms. Hooper 35 years ago during a high school football game in Westchester County, where he worked as a 10th grade Social Studies teacher. They only reunited recently when he offered to help a teary Ms. Hooper buy a bite to eat.

“Day after day, I’d give her money even though I knew where it was going,” he said, referring to alcohol. “It was like watching her commit suicide a little at a time.”

Mrs. Thomsen received a call from Ms. Hooper two weeks ago. Her sister vowed that she would finally kick her heroin habit and come home. Other friends in Tompkins – those who either frequent Crusty Row or congregate by the chess tables on the park’s southwest side – said Ms. Hooper often talked this way. They said she had the best intentions.

“For months she always said she was going to go to rehab next Monday,” said Mr. Taylor. “It was always next Monday. I’d try to encourage her but next Monday she’d be right back here. When it’s drugs, tomorrow never comes.”