Posts by Jordan Smith

Jordan's Bio

Jordan Smith

Jordan is the Next Step Coordinator at Denver Rescue Mission's Lawrence Street Community Center. Jordan is also a student, a freelance writer and an avid coffee drinker. He currently resides in Capitol Hill with his two roommates and a dog named Charlie. On the weekends you can find him sitting in local parks reading books, studying and people watching as nearby hipsters listen to indie music.

Faces of the Mission :: Reginald

Reginald looking upI stare downward at the sidewalk as we step past people living in homelessness standing and laying beside walls. For some, the walls act as support, providing a foundation to rest on, to sleep beside. For others, the walls provide a space to interact, to have conversation and ‘just kick it’ with her/his street family.

Despite their many differences, people experiencing homelessness all have something in common; two things in particular. They are all human, and they are all waiting, waiting on something, waiting on anything.

Our walk takes us beside the community garden. I lift my head and glance at the thermometer clinched to the side of the fence. The mysterious red liquid inside the thermometer is stretching toward the 95 degree line. Despite the heat, Jennifer (my colleague), Reginald, and myself are on a walkabout, headed for the nearest coffee shop.

As we walk, Lower Downtown’s lunch time traffic zooms and vroom’s past us; the breaks on a woman’s bicycle screech for attention; a Boston terrier, to our right, howls for someone to pet him. Amid the noise of the city streets is Reginald’s voice.

“I met my father when I was 18 years old, but he was a good role model to me. When I met him he didn’t want me selling drugs. He didn’t want me [out there] gang banging. He made me go back to school. He taught me how to read and write when I was 18. It was nice; he was a good man; he is a good man. He always taught me to be better, to strive to be a good man too.”

Reginald pauses. We’ve arrived at our table, located outside on the patio of Snooze. “I have two salted caramel lattes and a regular latte” says the barista, setting our drinks on the table. Reggie reaches for his, a salted caramel latte. He also reaches for a napkin. When he talks about his father he gets emotional; he wipes the tears from his eyes, and continues his story.

“My father was a mother and a father to me; my mom was a drugee, she lost custody of us when I was a child. I lost contact with everyone in my family…I only stopped talking to my father because of what I was doing at the time. He heard I was doing drugs and when he found out his face looked like he was disappointed…I feel like I messed up, like I ruined his name…I want to make my father proud. I would like to help juveniles like I was. I think that’d make him proud. A lot of them are in a big haze that they can’t get out of. I want to give them chances, give them opportunities. They need something to do, because in the neighborhoods that’s why we turn to gang-banging, because there’s not [anything] to do…I didn’t have no help either. I turned to what I could, and what I thought was right. Turns out gang-banging wasn’t right.”

“I used to be a drug dealer too,” Reggie says. “That’s all I used to do…the drugs I sold I turned to for some kind of comfort. I felt when I was doing drugs that I was happy, then, in just a short amount of time, I watched everything I had go away. My wife. My step kids. My job. I lost everything. I never wanted anything else in life than to be clean, again. I mean its like I told God when I was selling dope. ‘If this ain’t what you want me to do, give me a sign.’”

“He took everything away from me, everything, and now I’ve started to participate and actually do something with my life…I mean I’ve been down here [at the Mission] for three weeks and I’ve done no drugs…He hasn’t given [everything] back to me, but instead he’s saying to me, ‘you messed up kid, but you still have a chance. You can either fix what you’ve done and become better or you can continue to go downhill.’”

“When you talk about youth, you get excited, you get passionate.” I say. “Where does that passion come from Reggie?”

Reginald “Nobody helped me when I was a child, I went through [a lot]. If somebody would have stepped in I wonder where my life would be. I wonder the individual or the man I would have become. I wonder what accomplishments I would have already succeeded in, just what I would have been able to do with my life. It’s not right for anybody to suffer like I did. I mean, not many people survive being shot too many times, or being stabbed, or having your finger cut off. Why should people go through what I went through? We all grow up in bad places and in areas and situations that we can’t control, but we shouldn’t have to stay there. That’s why I get passionate, because why should a child lose their life because he or she has no environment from which to succeed? Why should a kid think ‘this is all I got?’ Why should they be like, ‘you know what, since I ain’t got [nothing else] I might as well give up.’”

“What about people living in homelessness? What do you want people to know about homelessness?” asks Jennifer.

“Not all of us are drug addicts. Some of us do have problems that stretch more than just drugs. A lot of us have mental health problems. A lot of us have trust issues. A lot of us have issues because we’ve never had nobody to back us up or to say you’ve done a good job. [A lot of us] have turned to the drugs because not only are we now homeless, but now we have lost everything. Some of us have lost the willpower to live, so we turn to what we can to find comfort…some people turn to God. Some people go to their family, but some people turn to the streets. Everybody has their own coping mechanism to deal with their stresses, and homeless people are no different.”

He’s right. The people we stepped past to get to this coffee shop are no different than Jennifer and I. We’re all humans. We’re all waiting, looking forward to experiencing something greater than our own story.

“You know, a lot of people look at us like we’re just a nobody. Most people don’t care who we are; they could not care less. They just look at us like we’re a face. I just want people to see that I came from a grinding area to a place of being loved, and that’s all I want. That’s all I’m waiting for; that’s what I look forward to. I just want to be loved…”

Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, a Next Step Coordinator at the Lawrence Street Community Center, offering insights and real life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.

Faces of The Mission :: Shavon

Shavon

 

“Everyone has a story of why we’re here…it’s not like what everyone thinks. Not everyone is homeless because we’re doing drugs or drinking; not everyone is like that. Not everyone in this situation is here because we want to be, or because we have a habit. Like for me, I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink. I was running from an abusive relationship.”

“One night he hit me over the head with a bat and tied me up with one of those metal coat hangers and left me in the closet for four days. I tried to call the police, but he’d be in jail and have someone bail him out and he’d come back and the beatings would be worse. One time he stabbed me. Right here in my leg, I’ve got a stab wound. I was kicking to get away from him and I was running and he took the knife and he stabbed me.”

Shavon’s voice fades, overshadowed by the music from the speakers above as we sit in a local café and she continues her story.

“So one night he left for work; he had to work overnight. I decided I was done. I packed, put whatever clothes and stole some money from him. You know… please, don’t get me wrong. I feel bad about that. I’m not a thief, but I took some money to get away, enough to buy a bus ticket out here, because it would be the last place he would look for me.”

The walls in the café we are sitting in are bleak—off white with a yellow hue. There are windows to my right; big windows, so big they allow in enough light to shift the mood. Shavon, staring out of them, comes across a thought.

“You know, I’m honest. I work hard. I work from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. unloading trucks and stocking shelves. Then, I work a second job from midnight to 4 a.m. I’m saving up for an apartment. I have half I need saved up so far. I try to be respectful of everyone. It’s kind of hard sometimes, [because] everyone is so negative out here, but the most difficult aspect for me is not being able to go home to my own apartment and sleep. I have to find a table at the [Lawrence Street] Community Center to try and get some sleep, to lay my head on the table for an hour or two and take little cat naps.”

Shavon’s New York accent is becoming more and more noticeable, and with it, so too are her convictions.

“You know, anything can happen. Anyone can be in this situation. If you live in a million dollar home, you could be in this situation in less than a minute. I came from a really good background, you know. I graduated high school. I graduated college. I used to be a medical assistant.”

“Now I fill out applications and put them out there but no one calls me back…it makes me upset. They’ll look me over faster than they would you. But I’ve got to stay positive, you know.”

Shavon’s words slow down. She pauses, looks down at her half-eaten bagel, nods, and then nods again. “Yeah…I’ve got to stay positive about it.”

“Shavon, how do you do that?” I say. “How do you stay positive in this situation?”

“My daughter. I’ve got to stay strong for her, and a lot of it is my belief in God. I believe God will always open a door for me if something else doesn’t work out. I pray to Him, and I know He has my back.”

Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, a Next Step Coordinator at the Lawrence Street Community Center, offering insights and real life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.

Faces of The Mission :: Thomas

thomas 3

“I woke up to a girl screaming.” Thomas says. “I sat up to see what was going on, to see where [the screaming] was coming from. She was getting beat on. Two of my friends bolted over to help her. Then, more guys came running from the side and started jumping on my friends. I pulled one guy off my friend. That’s when he stabbed me, twice; once in the chest and once in the thigh. I got a large portion of the blade stuck in [me]. That’s when I really got permanence into the family, though. Until then it was just…I was there, they helped me, they accepted me, they watched out for me, but [the stabbing] is when I got inserted into the family permanently.”

We’re in a bakery at the corner of 22nd and Larimer. Thomas is across from me, mid-sip of his orange juice. “I don’t like being out on the street. It’s a big blow to the pride to ask for things.  I was more or less raised to work for things. I have to rely on the shelter for a lot, but it’s necessary, and I’m grateful for the bed… [But, in a way,] as far as growing up goes, being homeless is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

I sit back and think this doesn’t sound like the best thing to happen to someone. Perhaps he’s joking, I think. I expect laughter to ensue, or at least a smile and a “just kidding.” Instead, his eyebrows are beginning to furrow. He looks up, then to the right. His movements are slow and thoughtful. He’s trying to remember his past, a past he’s chosen to forget.

“[I had] a lot of trauma in my childhood. I never really had a true family. I don’t talk to my parents, my relationship with them is complicated. I have one person I consider family back [home], in Mississippi, but he doesn’t even know where I’m at. [Out here, on the street,] I’ve actually got a family. There’s 10 to 15 of us; it’s a pretty large connection. They’ve definitely made it easier because they are people who help watch your back. Plus, they are people to talk to. You can’t do the homeless thing alone. Being homeless and alone, you go crazy. That’s when you get the people on the sides of the street screaming and [talking to themselves, saying crazy things like], ‘Pumpkins are the reason the government is flying to Africa!’”

Thomas’ comment about pumpkins and crazy people causes him to laugh, at least for a brief second. “Ugggggarrh, that hurts!” he says, grabbing his chest. “Every time I [laugh] it feels like my stomach is being ripped open.”

Thomas pauses, trying to catch his breath.

“And every time I breathe it feels like I’m being stabbed again. He nicked my diaphragm when he slashed my chest. I’m all sorts of screwed up right now.”

He lifts his shirt up, revealing what Thomas calls his “holes.” We didn’t ask to see them, but to Thomas these wounds are not just soon-to-be scars; to Thomas, his wounds are sacraments, remembrances to those around that he is committed, and connected, to something greater than himself.

“You lost everything, and this experience (I point toward the window, to the street) is the best thing that’s ever happened to you?”

“Yeah, just yesterday I lost everything in my storage and I could not care less. It was all material things I lost.”

I take a sip from my coffee. I’m trying to put the pieces together, trying to make sense of Thomas’ experience on the street. I set my latte down. “In losing your material life, you’ve gained family,” I say.

“A true family,” Thomas says.

Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, a Next Step Coordinator at the Lawrence Street Community Center, offering insights and real life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.

Faces of The Mission :: Julie

Julie

She ordered a traditional macchiato. We ordered lattes, as is our custom. By “our” I mean Jennifer Fitzgerald and I. We’re both Community Relations Coordinators at Denver Rescue Mission. Jennifer works more directly with our guests, while I work more closely with our Next Step members.

This is my first day meeting Julie. I’ve seen her around, hanging out in our courtyard and eating meals in our cafeteria, but I’ve never spoken with her, and for that reason, I feel a bit nervous. It’s odd to walk up to a stranger and ask them if I can hear their story and take their picture. It’s easier to just go about my day, working my nine to five. But if I only did that, something is lost—a voice, most notably. But also, the opportunity to connect and to learn goes by the wayside and instead two people just go about their daily routine, never knowing what the person has to say.

“Embrace your faith, if you have any” begins Julie. We are at a coffee shop in the Ballpark neighborhood; a cool breeze, coupled with the clamor of nearby traffic, dances through the patio where we sit. “Anyone can be, in a blink of an eye, homeless…” she continues, and so her story begins.

 “[Being homeless,] I’ve never seen hysteria and violence as I have on this scale, and I’ve been subjected to a lot when I was younger… Sometimes just because we are born of blood does not mean that is necessarily our family. I was never told the truth of my life. I don’t talk to my father. My mother passed away when I was 32 and she suffered at the hands of my father. Mother was ahead of her time, she pushed me to the point of liberating myself independently away from my toxic family…I lived with mother [for a while] and we were kind of poor. Father was in and out of adultery, doing horrible things, getting other women pregnant. Mother had the babies at home all by herself, and my mother used to tell me ‘your father’s not right.’ My mother used to abuse me, but I loved my mother. I saw through it for some reason and I never forgave my mother because there was nothing to forgive; she just tried to be the best mother that she could with what we had. I don’t know that there ever has to be a time where I forgive father for what he’s done and destroying mother. Maybe, maybe not, but I don’t think so. I’ve reconciled with him in my own soul… I’m not too ashamed, and I really should have a lot of shame for the way I’ve been treated and for tons of embarrassment, but the human soul, and my new found religion, gave me a tree of love in my heart and life that I knew nothing about…and my father concealed this from me…”

How did you end up homeless?

“I had my near death experience when I was 29…I was seeing a counselor at the time, I was on my medication, sadness medication. I took a whole bunch of pills, I told my son goodbye and I said to God ‘if you’re really real then you know what to do.’ I ingested pills. I went to my bed to lay down and I kissed my son goodbye forever and I prayed for an angel to come and rescue him.

I’m a recovering alcoholic; I drink occasionally when I want to, but the need to wake up every day with that craving is insidious, it’s horrible. I just want to be me, I just want to be humbly me…”

What’s the best, most exciting event that’s ever happened to you?

“Kindness and compassion and realness and sincerity rocks; it lives, it really lives! There’s real people that don’t lie to you like my father did all the time, good people who are willing to give me a break after everything I’ve been subjected to, people who forgive…people are really kind.

When I get off the street I want to be in a cool little apartment with my studies, all my books around me, with cool intellectual friends to replace what I’m missing.”

What would you say would help the most on the street?

“For people to kind of look out for one another, because you know what some people out here are really bad, evil. When you see an opportunity to lift someone, interject; I’m very shy, it’s hard for me.”

Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, a Community Relations Coordinator at the Lawrence Street Community Center, offering insights and real life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.