Denver Posts

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.

Rachel’s Lens // I’m on the right path

Written by, Rachel Greiman, Writer/Photographer

I lived in Philadelphia, sporadically, from 2007 – 2011. If I’m honest, the hardest decision I’ve ever made was leaving because I love that city so, so much. And a huge reason that I loved it was because of Helping Hands Rescue Mission, a small and little-known brick building in North Philadelphia where kids came to find some quiet.

It’s because of that place that I aspired to work at Denver Rescue Mission when I moved to Colorado. I wanted to work alongside the same demographic I was serving in Philly. I knew if Denver were to feel like home, I would need to work with the hungry and hurting. But I need to give credit where credit is due: my good friend Adam ignited in me a passion for the homeless that I didn’t know was there. For my four years in Philly, I spent every Monday working with his outreach, Philly Restart, and every Tuesday at the Mission with the kids. (This led to Wednesdays mentoring two young girls, Thursdays playing soccer with all the kids and Fridays taking them to professional basketball and soccer games.)

This week, an article ran on philly.com about Adam. It blew up my Facebook page as all my old friends from Philly shared it. This isn’t something new (see here, here and here), but it jogged something in my memory. I remember when interviewing him for a class sometime during college, he ended a recorded sound bite with this: “That’s what we’re doin’! Changin’ Lives!”

And here I am, more than five years later, working at a place whose Mission is just that: Changing Lives in the Name of Christ. Sometimes we question if God has us in the right place or if we’re walking the right path in life. Then, He gives us subtle indicators of His hand over us and His plans for us. Though it was and continues to be very painful for me to leave a place and group of people I love so much, it’s worth it to know and to be reminded that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

hippo and me. yes, he goes by hippo and yes, he is just as cool as he looks.

Intern Guest Blog // Life Changing

Written by Katie Pennell, Spring Intern

Katie hard at work :)

It’s been an inspirational and encouraging journey to say the least.

I was a youth program intern. And it was life changing. Since coming to serve in 2012, I’ve realized that no matter where someone is from or what their past looks like, all individuals are just searching for love and to find their purpose.

I never thought I would work with at-risk youth, but I’ve discovered a true passion for it in my heart! Seeing these kids grow and overcome difficult situations has truly been amazing. I’ve learned that being in a community that focuses on God’s will makes the individual grow just as much as the group collectively.

My internship at the Mission has led me to really see God’s beauty in all people. I’ve found that He is a comforter, powerful and He longs to have a personal and intimate relationship with us. It truly has been life changing.

To learn more about internships at Denver Rescue Mission, visit www.denverrescuemission.org/internship

Katie Pennell came to serve with Denver Rescue Mission from North Carolina. Her internship began September 2012.