Posts by Jordan Smith

Jordan's Bio

Jordan Smith

For three years Jordan worked at the Lawrence Street Shelter and Lawrence Street Community Center before transitioning into his current role, Writer/Editor/Photographer. In his previous role, Jordan spent his workdays providing support and resources for people experiencing homelessness. On the weekends Jordan enjoys reading the paper while drinking coffee, playing Scrabble and spending time with friends. He currently resides in Green Valley Ranch with his two housemates and a Border Collie named Emma.

Storage and Why It’s Vital for Denver’s Homeless

Many people who experience homelessness have possessions—a coffee cup, a utensil or two, toothpaste, deodorant, a toothbrush, a water bottle, a jacket, work attire, boots, construction gloves, extra socks and a change of clothes. They have personal items they carry as well—birth certificates, marriage licenses, I.D. cards and pictures of loved ones, to name a few.

Man on his way to the Lawrence Street Community Center (Park Ave. & Broadway)

Man on his way to the Lawrence Street Community Center (Park Ave. & Broadway)

Living life on the streets, walking from place to place, means our guests need to carry these possessions with them. To do this, many guests own luggage and packs to store all of their belongings.

Storage for people experiencing homelessness has always been a topic of conversation, for many reasons, but the main conversation centers around people experiencing homelessness who also have jobs. In 2018, the National Coalition for the Homeless estimated that 40% to 60% of people experiencing homelessness float in and out of part-time and full-time work, which means 40% to 60% of our friends and neighbors need a place to store their belongings while at work.

A lot of people we serve have jobs in the service industry or construction. In most cases, it’s not possible for employers to let their employees leave stuff “in the back” or “in the truck” while they work their shift and asking for permission to do such things is often risky and can feel degrading. Sometimes, especially in the service industry, employers don’t know they are hiring a person who is utilizing shelters for housing. Some employers do and are very happy to help someone who is going through a hard time. But some employers don’t know, and some of our guests feel that if their employer knew of their housing situation, then they would be treated differently.

Day storage for our friends and neighbors isn’t a new problem, but solutions have been complicated. In the past, our shelters have not been designed to store belongings during the day (only at night when people bring their possessions in with them as they sleep).

Inside the Holly Center

The Holly Center is equipped with multiple storage lockers under each bed.

 

Denver Rescue Mission developed the Holly Center with day storage in mind. Men who sleep at the Holly Center are encouraged to leave their belongings in storage lockers under their beds as they leave for the day. This simple idea and extra space have allowed many guests of the Holly Center to go to work without having to tote all of their belongings with them and without fear of being judged.

There is also the Lawrence Street Shelter which offers storage lockers to guests who are part of our Next Step community. Next Step helps men experiencing homelessness move toward stability by connecting them with a caseworker and addressing basic needs like food, shelter and job skills. A key component of providing them with this sense of stability is offering lockers to store their belongings while they go to appointments, job interviews and attend to daily errands our caseworkers ask of them.20180516_oao_0284

Storage alone is not the end-all answer to solving homelessness in Denver, but it’s an important element. For our neighbors experiencing homelessness, a safe place to store possessions provides a spark of stability.

Today, I’m A Full-Time Dad

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Being a good dad doesn’t happen by accident. Providing for a family takes intentionality, commitment and love.

 

Dwight grew up in a good home. He grew up in the church and his parents were committed to loving him well. But at 15 years-old, Dwight went searching for a new family, one that would let him live a life that he wanted—no rules, no convictions. “I joined a gang when I was 15,” he says. “My parents were there for me; they treated me right, but I was looking for a different kind of family.”

 

Dwight spent 15 years in a gang. During that time he began a family of his own, and while his son, Jonathan, was growing up, Dwight was living on the streets in California doing what people in gangs do. “I didn’t care about anything, not even hygiene. I wouldn’t change my shoes, and I remember one time my wife had to peel the socks off my feet. I didn’t go home often, but I’d go for a month or so, and when I did, I’d sleep for days.”

 

All the while, Jonathan was at home with his mom. “It wasn’t the easiest childhood,” says Jonathan. “At one point my dad wasn’t home at all. Then he was there on and off, but when he was at home, deep down, he knew he wanted to stay there. I think he had to defeat whatever it was keeping him on the streets.”

 

Gang life and drugs were keeping Dwight from being a good father. “For a long time, I had no convictions of what I did and who I did it to,” says Dwight. “I had a choice, and I chose the streets, the gang and drugs over my family.”

 

One day, when Dwight went back for getaway from the street, his wife said enough was enough. “She told me that until I got help, I couldn’t come home. She allowed me to wash clothes and shower, but then she said, ‘you have to go.’ She wouldn’t let me sleep there anymore.”

 

Dwight was homeless for 10 months before he reached out to Denver Rescue Mission.

 

In May 2017, he joined the Next Step community and three weeks later he was accepted into the New Life Program. “The New Life Program…it basically saved my life,” says Dwight. “I’ve been through too much; I’ve been beat down, left for dead. I’ve done been through it all, but I’m here now. I remember where I came from, but the first time in my life, I know where I’m going.”

 

During his time in the program, Dwight has reconnected with Jonathan. The two are still navigating their relationship and strengthening it, but it’s never been so good. “This is the best Father’s Day I’ve had, says Dwight. “I’ve missed out on a lot. And a lot of that I can’t get back. But I’m here now; I’m not a part-time dad. I’m a full-time dad, and I’m living for Jesus and my children.”

 

‘I’m glad that he’s here and doing what he has to do,” says Jonathan. “Our relationship is top notch. If I have questions, I know who to ask; he’s stepping into the role of my father.”

 

At the Mission, we love hearing stories of redemption and families reconnected — like Dwight and Jonathan — especially around Father’s Day when we’re reminded of the vast impact that our fathers have in our lives. Happy Father’s Day from our Mission family to yours.

Faces of the Mission :: John

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“I just got out of prison; I did three and a half years,” says John. “I came to Denver to do ironwork, and because I’m a big Peyton Manning fan. I tried to get here before he retired, but they wouldn’t let me out of prison, and I couldn’t escape.”

John laughs, but he’s serious—not about the escaping prison part, he wouldn’t do that. But he’s serious about the Peyton Manning part; John came here because he loves Peyton.

“I went to Indianapolis and saw some games when he played there. I wanted to see him in Denver, but he retired before I could get here.”

His dream to see Peyton play one more time is gone, and John knows that. But he’s got other goals, better goals.

“Now that I’m here, I want to get a job and a place and get back on my feet. I go to work on Monday. A guy told me he’d give me a job doing ironwork.”

He reaches into his pocket, pulls out his phone and scrolls through his photo album.

“This is the work I do,” he says. “This one is of me in Idaho, eight stories. This one is in Savannah, Georgia. And this one is in Seattle, Washington; it was only three stories.”

He’s showing me selfies of him standing at the top of buildings that he helped construct. He’s smiling at the camera, and I can’t help but laugh. Everything about the man sitting in front of me is pleasant. He talks like a true southern man — straightforward and unhurried. He jokes and smiles, laughs and even cries.

“How does a man like you become homeless,” I ask.

John puts his hands on the table. He glances out the window and stares into the distance. I can’t be sure what John’s looking for, or at. He nods his head as if to affirm my assumption—that a man like him doesn’t belong here, on the street, homeless, without a family or a job.

“Most of us men out there are taught to be dominant, an alpha male. My wife didn’t like that; she thought I was harsh, not toward our kids, but toward her. I wasn’t trying to be that way. I was trying to be the leader. I got depressed, and when I get depressed, I turn to alcohol, and then I get behind the wheel and drive. That’s what sent me to prison.”

John reaches for his phone, again. “I don’t show too many people these, so …”

His voice fades with the smell of his lukewarm coffee. He scrolls through his photo album, and this time he pulls up pictures of his children. “I haven’t seen them in years,” he says. “All I want is to be with them, again. But I messed up; I drank too much. I acted like I was on top of the world, and I did everything I shouldn’t have done.”

I haven’t seen John again since the day I interviewed him back in March. I can’t be sure where he’s at, and I’d like to suggest that he’s doing well, on his way to overcoming his alcoholism and mending relationships with his children. But I don’t know those things.

As we walked back to the Lawrence Street Community Center that day, John said, “Hopefully there won’t be any more roadblocks for me; hopefully I get to see my kids.”

Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, Denver Rescue Mission’s Writer/Editor/Photographer, offering insights and real-life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.

Faces of the Mission :: Lori

Lori Sometimes people make statements that aren’t true. They say things like, “I’m good” when in fact they aren’t well. These are the statements often heard in passing, as one walks by acquaintances and colleagues in the office or the hallway.

It was mid-afternoon on a Friday when Jennifer and I walked by Lori, who was seated at a table inside the courtyard at the Lawrence Street Community Center. Jennifer has a contagious personality, one that often lends itself to laughter and long conversations.

“How are you?” asked Jennifer.

Lori turned toward Jennifer and me, her back to the table. “I’ve had better days,” she said.

Lori isn’t one to make cordial conversation, the type that people expect in passing, at least. Her words reveal more truth than that, and so does her story.

“When I was eight years old my mom married a pedophile,” said Lori. “He not only abused me, he also got my brother, my cousin and the girl up the street. And those are just the ones I know about.”

As she told about her childhood, Lori did so with a sense of peace; not like the type of peace a person experiences during meditation. It was a different kind of peace, less reflective and more of a graceful confidence.

Lori 2To this day, I struggle to understand where Lori’s peacefulness comes.

I think back to my own story. My childhood was different than most. I was born with a birth defect. As a kid, I endured surgery after surgery after surgery, so many that I lost count after the eighth. None of my friends could relate to the feeling, to the anxiety and the fear that comes with being operated on as a child. I navigated those experiences with the help of my family. But Lori’s childhood was more than just different, it was wrong and it was traumatic and the trauma came at the hands of her abusers, people she knew and people she called family.

Yet, as she sat there in front of me on that Friday, she told her story with grace. Few people would dare criticize Lori if she had thoughts of rage and even vengeance. “I don’t look back with anger or regret,” she said. “It happened. It was bad. And it made me who I am.”

Of course, she doesn’t understand a lot of things about her past; like when those police officers, the ones who listened to eight-year-old Lori tell her story—of how she was running around the house in her pajamas and then was raped by her step-dad—replied, “You shouldn’t have seduced him by being in your pajamas.”

When I asked Lori what she would say to those officers today, her eyebrows raised to the middle of her forehead, she put her hand on the table in front of her as if to provide herself with support, support that the younger Lori was often without, and she said, “I have a lot of choice words for those people.”

And when asked what she might say to her mom, Lori struggled to find the right words. She has a fondness for her mom, an empathy that I can’t fathom.

“I don’t know what I would say to my mom. It was her worldview,” said Lori. “She was brought up to please the man. Back then, if you didn’t please the man, you deserved what you got. I’m not saying that’s right, but that’s what they taught us. It was the 60’s and 70’s. Till the day she died my mother was taught, and believed, that men do no wrong. One time, after my ex got a hold of me, she took me to her house. When the police finished photographing my bruises, you know what she asked me? She didn’t ask me how I was or if I was okay, she asked, ‘what did you do to antagonize him?’”

When she said those words, her face softened, she peered down toward the table in front of her, but only for a moment. She lifted her eyes up at Jennifer. “I have empathy where a lot of people don’t have it,” she said.

And then she told a story about her daughter and how difficult it is to keep a child safe in the world. As her kids were growing, Lori talked with them about her childhood and the abuse she experienced growing up. She understands the shame and embarrassment and silence that follow victims of sexual assault. There is this feeling that it’s your fault; that you shouldn’t have been there alone; that you should have taken a different route; that you should have known better. There’s a fear of telling someone, anyone, because shame and judgement and embarrassment linger. Lori gets it because she experienced it.

Lori stressed to her children the importance of vulnerability, “I’d talk to my kids about it,” said Lori. “I told them that if someone ever touches you, tell me, tell someone.” But when Lori’s daughter was molested by a man from their church, her daughter was silent. “She’s embarrassed. She’s ashamed,” said Lori. “I get it. It makes me look back at my mother … and you know what? Being a mom is hard. Mom’s make mistakes… .”

Family and support systems are crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But as child, when your support systems fail to support, then what? Where does one turn for appreciation and comfort and acknowledgment and love? There are several answers, Lori’s answer was meth.

“I ran away at 14. I did a lot of drugs after that, I used to use meth.”

Sometimes we hear stories that are alarming. It’s hard to know why these stories are difficult to hear. Perhaps it’s because we are humans, and as humans we are image-bearers of God, beings that yearn for good, for harmony, for beauty. To this point, this has not been that story.

My office faces west, and through the windows I can see the Rocky Mountain range. After writing this story I find myself staring out the window, brooding over this story. A friend of mine is the President/CEO of a non-profit who reaches out to victims of sex-trafficking. She reminded of an important insight, she said, “You have to remember this is a part of her story, it’s not the story.”

And she’s right. This is not all of Lori’s story. It’s not the story.

Eventually, Lori will go on to end up homeless. She will become irate at how it happened, how they kicked her off of SSDI, causing her to lose her monthly income of just over $800. She became two weeks behind rent and then was kicked out by the property managers.

I’ll let Lori tell you the rest of her story. “Since I’ve been homeless, I’ve had jobs,” she says. “I used to work for AT&T, in their call center. But I couldn’t pass the computer test. I get sick, too, and it makes it hard to work. When I worked, I couldn’t take a shower. There is no shower out at the women’s shelter, and when I went to work, I’d show up too late in the day to take a shower at the community center. I made it work for a while. I would just paint my fingernails so my employer wouldn’t see the dirt that is constantly under them, but…”

Her voice trails off and the interview ends.

I haven’t spoken with Lori since the first week of February. I was at the Lawrence Street Community Center last week. I tried to follow up with her, but I didn’t find her, and many of the people I spoke with didn’t know her.

I showed a picture of Lori to a friend who lives on the street. He told me that a women’s transitional housing program offered Lori admittance into their facility. Lori accepted the offer and will now have a stable place to live and shower while she works with a case manager toward developing skills to find more sustainable jobs.

And that’s Lori’s story, that’s the story. She is not defined by her experiences, experiences that have often been unfair, wrong and traumatic. Lori’s story is defined by her resilience. That’s Lori’s story. That’s the story.

 

 

Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, Denver Rescue Mission’s Writer/Photographer (with contributions by Emergency Services Coordinator, Jennifer Fitzgerald), offering insights and real-life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.

Faces of the Mission :: Marco and Bartet

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“I’m from Italy,” says Marco. “I worked at an Insurance agency there. I left my job because I didn’t like it that much. I was really depressed and I wanted another experience out of life, so I left. I went to Ibiza. I was alone there for four days before I decided to go to Columbia. That’s where I met Bartet.”

We’re inside Hi Rise Bakery, at the corner of Larimer and 22nd Street. Marco is sitting in front of Jennifer. And Bartet is outside, pacing the sidewalk. He’s jonesing for a cigarette, asking strangers if he can have one. I watch through the window as a stranger lends him a smoke.

Our coffees come to the table. Two lattes and a cappuccino. “Thank you for the cappuccino,” says Marco.

Marco is confident, but soft-spoken. His presence, coupled with his Italian accent, give off a calming energy. He sips his cappuccino, and looks into my lens as I take a photo of Jennifer and him conversing about the places he has traveled to.

“Rome. Naples. Columbia. Mexico City…”

Marco lists, in no particular order, place after place.

“…Ibiza, San Francisco, and then we came here, to Denver.”

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Bartet is still outside. With one hand he holds his cigarette. His other arm is wrapped around a lamp post. His feet are off the ground, one leg kicked up in the air behind him, as he swings around and around. He swings with a child-like zeal. People pass by and smile, some laugh, others stare. But Bartet just keeps swinging.

He sees me looking at him. I, too, smile. He waves, points his index finger in the air and says something. I can’t hear him through the glass, but I read his lips. “One second,” he says.

A few minutes pass. Bartet walks into the coffee shop and over to our table. Marco excuses himself, going outside for some fresh air. Bartet sits down and begins his story.

“My mom wanted me to go into Telecommunications and stay near her,” says Bartet. “She has a lot of children and she tried to get me to stay. But it was best to leave. My dad died when I was four because of alcoholism. And I picked up alcoholism back home, too. So I left.”

“I love Jesus, and that’s where I find happiness,” says Bartet. “God is everywhere, I think. From the lyrics of Pink Floyd to the streets. He is everywhere. That’s why I like to travel, because you see so much of God and people.”

He goes on for several more minutes, speaking about his spirituality and God. He talks about angels and spirits. He talks about how he believes they are watching over him, protecting him. He talks about his friend, Marco.

As he talks he does so with his eyes closed, pondering over his thoughts before he speaks them into words. A few decades ago, he would have been identified as a hippy. But to him, he is simply spiritual, connected to a power greater than himself. It’s this connection that inspires him to keep going, to keep traveling.

“Our experiences help define us,” says Bartet. “They connect us. I don’t want to stay in one place. I always want to be adapting. Changing. Growing.”

Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, Denver Rescue Mission’s Writer/Photographer (with contributions by Emergency Services Coordinator, Jennifer Fitzgerald), offering insights and real life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.