Lawrence Street Community Center 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.

1,000 Happier Feet This Easter

Easter Banquet Banner

As the Denver Rescue Mission staff member who oversees all of our events and corporate engagement, one of the best parts of my job is getting to see the greater community of the Denver area come together to make a difference in the lives of our guests and program participants. Hands down, my favorite event that I get to be a part of is our annual Easter Celebration.

The Easter Celebration is all about restoring a sense of dignity to men and women by providing a holiday meal and a clean pair of socks and shoes. In addition to a new pair of shoes, they enjoye an Easter chapel service, a traditional Easter meal and the opportunity to have their feet washed and examined by a podiatrist. This year we were fortunate to distribute nearly 1,000 pairs of shoes.

Easter Banquet 2017 Shoes

Our Easter Celebration wouldn’t be possible this year (or any other year for that matter) if it weren’t for our corporate partners like Runners Roost Denver and New Balance. As ambassadors of the local running community, perhaps no one understands the value of clean socks and new shoes like the teams at Runners Roost and New Balance. They have served and partnered with us on multiple occasions for our Easter Celebration. Each year, they are willing to not only donate shoes, but also to come and serve at the event to help distribute the shoes to our guests.

I have been honored to work with Runners Roost and New Balance in previous years. I’m always struck by their graciousness, willingness to say ‘yes’, desire to serve those in need and just how “on the ball” they are in regards to communication, efficiency and partnering with us. It’s so awesome to me that these companies believe in: our community; providing and restoring dignity to those Denver Rescue Mission serves; and building community in their own organizations through service opportunities like these.

 

If you are a part of a company or your company is looking to partner with an organization to help make a lasting change in the lives of those in need, please reach out to me at JLittlejohn@denrescue.org. Let’s start the conversation and see what kind of change we can make together!

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.

Preparing for Denver’s Fickle Weather 

As we prepare for a mid-spring winter weather advisory (can anyone say oxymoron?!), staff at Denver Rescue Mission’s Lawrence Street Community Center, Lawrence Street Shelter and Fort Collins Rescue Mission are preparing for increased demand for our services.

Guests fill the Lawrence Street Community Center dining hall during a March 2016 snow storm.

Guests fill the Lawrence Street Community Center dining room during a March 2016 snow storm

As you can imagine, bad weather brings a lot more people indoors during the day and overnight. Here is how our facilities are preparing for this weekend:

The Lawrence Street Community Center’s dining room will be open throughout the day Saturday an Sunday. Additional food is being prepared for our normal meal times. Warm showers are at the ready, along with emergency clothing supplies. Staff will work to ensure that everyone seeking overnight shelter has a confirmed place to go.

The Lawrence Street Shelter anticipates filling all 315 beds and mats, as well as 325 mats at the Emergency Shelter (operated in partnership with Denver’s Road Home). Area shelter providers are already talking, ensuring that each provider knows where to send people in the event they reach their capacity.

Fort Collins Rescue Mission is preparing for a very similar demand on its services: increased meals and utilizing all of their available beds and mats. Fort Collins Rescue Mission provides more than 100 people a warm, dry and safe place to spend the night, including overflow mats which will be extended through April 30th.

As you brave the looming elements this weekend, consider how you might help Denver Rescue Mission keep these vital services available within the community. We ask you to visit our Donations page to learn how your generous donations can make a lasting impact at our shelter facilities.