Homelessness Posts

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.

Denver Rescue Mission among faith-based groups leading the way to help the homeless

Back in February, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. for the unveiling of a new homeless study completed by the Baylor Institute for Studies for Religion on behalf of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM). It was a privilege to be in a room full of dignitaries and nonprofit leaders who are making a significant impact on homelessness across the country. And the study had some impressive results.

ASSESSING THE FAITH-BASED RESPONSE TO HOMELESSNESS IN AMERICA: FINDINGS FROM ELEVEN CITIES was compiled in 2016 with data from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and local agencies in 11 “sample cities” — Baltimore; Jacksonville, Fla.; Atlanta; Indianapolis; Omaha, Neb.; Houston; Denver; Phoenix; San Diego; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle.

Denver Rescue Mission was one of the local agencies to participate in this research and we are eager to share the results. Overall, faith-based organizations (FBOs) and missions are at the forefront when it comes to not only providing the homeless with shelter beds, but also effectively dealing with the root causes of homelessness. 

Some of the key findings from the Baylor Study include…

  • 58% of emergency shelter beds in these 11 cities are provided by FBOs
  • These FBOs save taxpayers $9.42 per every $1 invested by government funding
    • Essentially, $119 million in tax savings in the 11 cities over three years
  • FBO homeless ministries are at the forefront of program innovation to improve their ability to increase positive outcomes for homeless individuals and families
  • Cities with more FBOs tend to have less unsheltered homeless individuals and families
Faith-based organizations provide nearly 60% of the Emergency Shelter beds, what many consider the “safety net of all safety nets” for the homeless population. Graphic courtesy of Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion

Faith-based organizations provide nearly 60% of the Emergency Shelter beds, what many consider the “safety net of all safety nets” for the homeless population. Graphic courtesy of Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion

Find a link to the full report here.

The report itself is over 140 pages long. Denver’s portion begins on page 44. If you are passionate about our cause and homelessness, I encourage you to browse through these pages and explore for yourself how FBOs are changing communities one mission at a time.

This study, I believe, reminds us of the importance of the faith-based community in meeting the needs of the homeless as well as the significant effort that needs to continue to be made to collaborate with you (our community of supporters) and the government in working together toward solutions to issues of homelessness. We couldn’t do this soul-saving work without you!

Local Comedian Paying it Forward

For most of us, we have a network of support – spouse, family, friends, mentor, small group, co-workers – we can call on in times of need. These are people we trust and feel comfortable asking for help, regardless of the situation.

For a moment, imagine you didn’t have anyone in your life you could go to for support. Now suppose you find yourself in the midst of a crisis. It could be loss of a job, receiving an eviction notice, being diagnosed with a physical or mental illness, among other things. What would you do? Where would you turn?

In 2010, local comedian David Bublitz found himself in a dire situation. He’d lost sight in one eye and was suffering the intense pangs of depression. Also, the health of his mother was in decline. He felt lost, had abandoned all hope and even attempted suicide.

Feeling completely adrift, David spent most of the next year in and out of the hospital dealing with mental health issues. By the end of 2012, he was feeling better and entered into the developing comedy scene in Northern Colorado. Soon his depression would swing into a manic state. It took four different doctors before David was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. However, by that time, he’d burned a lot of bridges. His support structure was gone and he was no longer welcome back home. At this point, he found himself with no one to call and nowhere to go.

That’s when David became a guest at Fort Collins Rescue Mission. For about a year, he relied on the support and services we offer. Not only did he receive warm meals and a safe place to sleep at night, he also found hope and a sense of purpose. With encouragement from staff, he decided to “get back out there” and pursue his passion of stand-up comedy.

Fast forward to February 2017: David has been in stable housing for two years and he’s successfully managing his mental health diagnosis. He credits the help he received at Fort Collins Rescue Mission for saving his life and enabling him to get back on his feet.

To show his gratitude, he organComedian David Bublitz_event picized the “Colorado Comedy Showcase” on Feb. 10 at the historic Rialto Theater in Loveland. Nearly 100 guests came out to hear David, who opened the show with his own “greatest hits” comedy set, and three of his stand-up comedian friends. It was a laugh-a-minute show!

David committed that a portion of every ticket sold would be donated to Fort Collins Rescue Mission. Nearly $300 was raised to benefit the homeless and hurting that turn to Fort Collins Rescue Mission for help. David believes that what goes around comes around and he’s thrilled to be able to give back by paying it forward to others in need.

Fort Collins Rescue Mission is dedicated to helping the lost, broken and hopeless in our community. We meet people at their physical and spiritual points of need with the goal of returning them to society as productive, self-sufficient citizens. David’s story is just one example of how we’re changing lives.

 

A Beautiful Cloudy Day

My wife woke up the other morning and opened the window exclaiming, “Oh, what a beautiful, cloudy day!”

Since Colorado gets nearly 300 days of sunshine a year—even though that’s technically kind of a myth—I could see what she meant. It’s not often that we get an overcast day. Even in the winter, the sky can be a brilliant blue with warm sun taking the edge off the biting cold.

Regardless, her comment made me laugh. “Only someone from up-state New York would say something like that,” I replied.

Now it was her turn to laugh. The weather around her parents’ house in up-state New York is often gloomy, especially this time of year. The gray shadow of rolling clouds is something my wife grew up with, so today reminded her of home. And as she put it, “The cloudy days make you appreciate the sunny ones.”

All I can think of when I look out my office window at the gray wall hiding the Front Range is how many people have to struggle in this cold outside on the street. Thousands of people have to face Denver’s winters alone. While I’m looking forward to a soft blanket of snow and snowboarding in the mountains, I also know this time of year brings more struggles to people in need than most other times of the year.

Thankfully, our homeless neighbors are not without options. The Mission’s Lawrence Street Community Center offers people a safe, drug- and alcohol-free place to be during the day and warm meals among other services. And men experiencing homelessness can find shelter each night in our 315 beds and about 300 additional mats at the emergency overflow location.

Denver Rescue Mission :: Lawrence Street Community Center

Denver Rescue Mission :: Lawrence Street Community Center

In fact, we serve nearly 1,000 unique individuals at the community center every day with meals, laundry services, restrooms and an encouraging environment.

So, as the snow flies and we bundle up against the cold, take a moment on a beautiful, cloudy day to remember those who are struggling to get back on their feet. And remember the staff and program participants at Denver Rescue Mission as well. We rely on supporters like you to help provide life-saving services to people in need. Without all of your love, faith, volunteer hours, donations and continuous encouragement, we wouldn’t be able to open warm and welcoming arms to the most vulnerable people in our city. Thank you for making it all possible.