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Woman loses her homeless friend who was hooked on drugs

Updated: November 2, 2011 5:39PM

Barbara Miles first met Cynthia Barnes one morning four years ago when she opened the back door of her new apartment and found the homeless woman sleeping on the porch.

Most people would have freaked or got mad. Miles made a new friend.

“She asked if she could come back here again,” Miles recalled one evening last week. “I told her: ‘You can’t live with me, but you can visit.”

And Barnes did visit, regularly, except when she was in jail or rehab or lost on a drug binge. Barnes would let her stop by for something to eat, to take a shower, maybe get a nap.

Even when she didn’t visit, Barnes called Miles on the phone every day just to check in.

“She wanted to let Tee-Tee know she was OK,” said Miles, using Barnes’ nickname for her, a derivation of Auntie. “She just wanted to know that somebody loved her.”

The calls and visits stopped for good July 23. That was the day police say a man pushed Barnes through a third floor window at 59th and Kedzie, causing her to fall to her death on the sidewalk below.

Barnes was a crack addict and a prostitute, one leading to the other, and her friends on the street say she undoubtedly went to the man’s room for sex, drugs or both — though also to get out of the rain on a stormy night.

Police have not discussed what she was doing there, but say the suspect jumped out a window minutes after Barnes’ fall, breaking his neck and fracturing his skull.

I met Miles last week when I paid a visit to the crime scene in hopes of finding somebody who could help fill in the details of Barnes’ life on the streets. We were introduced by AWOL, Barnes’ homeless boyfriend, not to be confused with another boyfriend, Alex, in whose nearby apartment she often stayed. AWOL was showing me the bed of a landscaper’s dump truck in which he and Barnes sometimes slept when Miles beckoned from the rear landing.

“My children loved her. She was my girl,” Miles told me after I explained my business. “We were crazy about Cynthia.”

Barnes, who would have turned 40 Sunday, had six children of her own, all of them taken away from her through the courts because of her drug addiction and lifestyle. At least some of the children were born with drugs in their blood system, and Barnes was never allowed to see them again after she left the hospital. Her relationship with her own mother, who took legal custody of four of the children, was strained at best.

“When her family threw her away, she felt like she had nobody,” Miles said.

Into this void came Miles, 48, a single mother of three, whose own extended family questioned her kindness to this troubled stranger.

“She was heaven sent. That’s the way I looked at it,” Miles said. “That could be me. Her life could have been my life, and I would want somebody to take me in out of the cold.”

“I just loved her. She was loud. She was bubbly. She never gave up. She never stopped. She had her problems. We all do. She showed me that despite how your life turned out, there’s always a reason to stand up and keep moving. She lived how she had to live. She did what she had to do.”

Though barred from even visiting her own children, Barnes sometimes helped look after Miles’ kids, taking them outside to play or to the store to give mom a breather.

“Cynthia was always here for my kids’ birthdays,” Miles said. “Sometimes she helped them with their homework.”

“She wished she could be with her own children. She talked about her kids often.”

“And she never stole anything from me,” Miles added.

Miles also confirmed something else I’d heard: that Barnes liked to write poetry.

“She would always write ... because nobody would listen to her,” Miles said.

Barnes had entrusted Miles with some of her clothing and legal documents, even the medicine she took to control a seizure disorder. But Miles couldn’t find any of the poems amid the paperwork.

Miles said she tried to get tough with Barnes about the need for her to make better choices, to choose better friends, to get off the drugs and stay off them.

“She’d say, ‘I don’t have any family. I don’t have anybody that loves me.’ I’d tell her you have to love yourself first. You have to look in the mirror and stop blaming everybody else for your problems.”

Time ran out on Cynthia Barnes before she realized somebody did love her.

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