From Homeless to Hero

Recovery, homelessness, hero

According to Joseph Campbell, the late professor and author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”  The heroes we read about in books or watch in movies are simply pictures of that heroic spirit that lies somewhere within all of us.  Those heroes represent our collective search for what it really means and what it takes for a human to give themselves to something greater.  But real heroes are actually all around us, and I have found that they show up in the unlikeliest places.  

The battles that our homeless residents at City Mission fight every day require true courage.  During my three years here, working alongside our residents, I have seen that heroic spirit in more ways than I have in my entire life.  It continually amazes me how their recovery requires heroic effort, sacrificing themselves in order to restore hope, purpose, and strength in their lives.  Even the second step of the Alcoholics Anonymous’ twelve-step program (“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”) requires you to begin living for something greater.  I am convinced that the path our residents take from brokenness to independence is the Hero’s Journey.  

The Ordinary World

Every hero’s journey begins in the place he or she knows and understands the best – a place that feels normal and predictable.

The story of Moses, for example, in the book of Exodus, finds Moses in a place of relative comfort and predictability in the mountainous, desert region of Midian.  He is performing the very ordinary task of shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep.  He has a wife and at least two children.  He has built an ordinary life for himself in an ordinary place.  

For many of us, the ordinary world we grew up in elicits happy, nostalgic feelings and memories.  Some of us, perhaps, never leave our ordinary world precisely because it is so pleasant and comfortable.

Unfortunately, for many of our residents at City Mission, their ordinary world is filled with chaos, violence, and addiction.  Sadly, that world becomes normal, predictable, even comfortable for them.  A large percentage of City Mission residents are in drug and/or alcohol recovery, and at one time in their lives, drugs became a kind of saving grace, the only thing perhaps that got them from day to day – an integral part of what makes their ordinary world feel normal.

“Addiction is a dark, comfortable place,” explained Rob, a former City Mission resident.  “You know what it feels like, so you’re ok with it.  Change is the scary thing, especially if you don’t know how.”

According to Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction, an article produced by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Over time, if drug use continues, other pleasurable activities become less pleasurable, and the person has to take the drug just to feel ‘normal.’” Eventually, drug use can become the defining characteristic of what “ordinary” feels like to a user.  It alters your perspective so that the drug becomes your new normal.

On their website, alcoholrehab.com, the American Addiction Centers explain that, “The life of an addict can be terribly miserable, but it is familiar,” and “there is comfort in the familiarity…Those who are addicted to alcohol or drugs can find it almost impossible to imagine how they can possibly live without these substances.”

“All of our residents can remember a time when their addiction helped them,” said Paul Granger, City Mission’s former Manager of Men’s Services.  “We’re all trying to find our shield or our helmet that’s going to protect us against this world that hurts us.”

Unfortunately, many people turn to drugs and alcohol, because it can be a temporary escape from the challenges and the trauma of their reality.  Many, like Rob, use opioids and other drugs as armor against physical pain.  Rob suffered severe complications after gastric-bypass surgery.  When his prescription ran out, he was already addicted.  He turned to street drugs to numb the pain.

Others, like Tara, another former City Mission resident, turn to drugs to escape psychological and emotional pain.  She grew up in fear of her father.  “I really didn’t have a childhood,” she explained. “My Dad took that from me.  He was very abusive, mentally.  And physically with my Mom and sister.  He could put the fear of God in you with just a look, because we knew how crazy he was.”

Lance Dodes M.D., in his article The Psychology of Addiction for Psychology Today, explains, “Every addictive act is preceded by a feeling of helplessness or powerlessness…Addictive behavior functions to repair this underlying feeling of helplessness. It is able to do this because taking the addictive action (or even deciding to take this action) creates a sense of being empowered--of regaining control--over one's emotional experience and one's life.”

For far too many, drugs and alcohol become normal life, a kind of armor that protects users from the day-to-day trials and tribulations of life.  Drugs start out as a solution.  It’s only over time that they become the problem – an even more devastating problem than the original one users were trying to escape.  

The Unknown

               The absolute most crucial step in the hero’s journey, the one that all heroes must undertake, the step that in many ways defines a hero, is crossing the threshold into the unknown.

               When Moses encounters the burning bush, he suddenly has an important decision to make, a decision that will ultimately impact the world for thousands of years to come.  He can either stay in the comfortable little cocoon he is currently living in where everything is safe and predictable, or he can venture off into the wilderness of the unknown where life is dangerous, and the future is uncertain.  If he chooses to stay in Midian, then he never really becomes a hero.  He must set out on the path to Egypt before his life can take a heroic turn.

               Similarly, our residents at City Mission must leave behind the very thing that makes them feel normal and venture off into the unknown of recovery and life transformation. The hero must find the courage to step outside of the life cycle he is stuck in.  He must leave behind his addiction, the very thing that makes him feel safe and normal.    

               “It’s a paradox,” explained Granger.  “Everything our residents think they need, they need to risk giving that stuff up.  And now they have to walk through this world without any armor, without those things that had always protected them.  Being caught in that struggle is the essence of life.  I respect that immensely.  It takes an enormous amount of courage to trust that you can live a different life through this process when everyone and everything in your life is telling you the opposite.”

               Rob had been to rehab many times, but he didn’t really want to change. His addiction was the last thing he wanted to let go of.  “I was a rehab Rockstar,” he said.  “I was never a troublemaker.  I knew how to play the game.”  Because of his addiction, he lost everything – his family, his house, his job.  He was evicted from his apartment and living on the street, thinking about how he had become the hobo he remembered laughing at as a child.  For him, it was scarier to give up his addiction than it was to be homeless.

               Pete is another former resident and staff member at City Mission.  At one time, he owned his own business.  He had a nice house, a nice car, and a family. But he was an alcoholic.  His drinking nearly killed him on three separate occasions.

               “I almost drank myself to death,” he explained.  “I couldn’t stop.  I was in the grips.”

               In 2008, he nearly died of an overdose.  His wife made him go to rehab, but he continued to drink and was divorced in 2009.  In September of 2009, he was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, which turned quickly into ascites, a severe swelling in the abdomen caused by his drinking.  His skin turned a fire-hydrant yellow, and he ballooned up to 330 pounds.  “The doctor told me I was in the twelfth hour,” he said.  Somehow, he was miraculously healed, and he quit drinking for 37 months. In 2013, he nearly died again when he overdosed on anxiety medication and a fifth of scotch.    

               “I had to come within an inch of my life,” he said.  “Pain is one of my best teachers.  It’s the only thing I ever listened to.  God throws pebbles.  If that doesn’t work, he throws boulders.  I needed the boulders.”

               The journey into the unknown often comes at a price.  There is nothing easy about it.  For addicts to change, they often need to hit rock bottom, because change not only means giving up a substance but giving up everything they had built their life around, everything they thought protected them from a painful world.  

               Rock bottom looks different for everyone.  Pete had to come within an inch of his life.  For others, it could be going to jail, losing a loved one, or getting fired from a job.

               In their article, Change is Possible for Addicts, the American Addiction Centers explain, “Those who have a high rock bottom do not need to lose very much before they decide that they have had enough. Other people hold onto their addiction until it destroys everything good in their life.”  

               But when the fear of the unknown world without drugs or alcohol is finally overshadowed by the pain of life with drugs or alcohol, life-change is possible. When an addict reaches their rock bottom, they are willing to do anything to escape.  Pete agreed, “The pain got to the point where I was willing to do anything other than what I had been doing.”

               The American Addiction Centers explain, “When people reach this stage, they have the motivation and potential to completely turn their life around.”

               “When you’re at your weakest, that’s when Christ is at His strongest in you,” Rob told me one day in the City Mission chapel.  “He is always there.  He draws us real close.  He whispers in your ear, ‘I’m right here.’  That’s the start of the change.”

               Tara explains her venture into the unknown this way, “I could still be in Virginia curled up in bed crying my eyes out in a completely dark room. Instead, I’m here at City Mission trying to be the woman I never thought I could be.  Me sitting here right now, that’s enough proof for me that change is possible.”

Tests and The Inmost Cave

Once heroes venture into the unknown, they are met with enemies and obstacles that test their new resolve.  At each obstacle, the hero must renew his decision to carry on into a new future or revert back to his old ways.

Joseph Campbell tells us, “Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.”

Moses is met with many obstacles on his journey. Pharoah refuses nine times to let the Israelites go, and then once the Israelites are free, they run out of food and water in the desert.  They are met in battle by the Amalekites.  The people complain and grumble against Moses as they are forced to wander the desert for 40 years.  At each stage, Moses must find the courage to push forward.

According to the American Addiction Centers, people with addictive personalities (those who are more likely to fall into addiction) often “find life too uncomfortable to deal with. In recovery the individual has to find a new way of dealing with things.”  Navigating through the challenges of life without drugs or alcohol requires you to adopt more effective and healthy coping strategies, develop stronger interpersonal skills, discover new ways to build your confidence, and handle difficult situations and feelings.  You find strength deep within yourself that you never knew was there.

“This can be a place of adversity that they don’t want to walk into,” said Steve Nicholas, City Mission’s former Director of the Career, Training, and Education Program.  “It can be a battle area.  How do they respond when they face adversity?  What is their choice?  Do they back down and return to a place of comfort or fight for something better?”

Tara says, “You got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Sharing in meetings, speaking with a complete stranger, trying to put yourself out there in the fellowship of other addicts.  Helping the next addict is without parallel.  It will shape and mold you into a completely different person. I am not the same person I was a year ago.”

When faced with new challenges, instead of turning inward, Tara learned to reach out to others and live for something greater than herself.

There comes a time in recovery when you must confront your deepest fear or your greatest weakness – your inmost cave.  It is a moment of truth in your hero’s journey.

Just a few months into his sobriety, Pete was kicked out of a treatment facility for “drug-seeking behavior,” and with no other options, he was forced to come to City Mission.  It was an obstacle in his journey that filled him with anger -- an anger born in the heart of who he was.  He was angry over losing his family, his home.  He was angry over the four DUI’s that landed him in jail for 47 weekends.  It was an anger that had perhaps always been there – an anger that perhaps drove him to drink in the first place.

It was this same anger that nearly got him kicked out of the Mission as well.  After lashing out against a City Mission staff member in August of 2014, he was given a stern warning that if he didn’t change his behavior, he would have to leave. That same day, while at church, he had an epiphany.  “I cried out to the Lord with literal tears running down my face.”  

“Tears are some of our best prayers,” Pete said. “Psalms 56:8 tells us, ‘God collects each tear in a bottle.’”

That challenge proved to be an opportunity for Pete to find a deeper power, and his life was renewed.  From that day, Pete began living for something greater than himself.  

“I call that day Humility Monday,” he explained. “Something happened.  I had come to the end of myself.  Either I found God or He found me, but I realized on that day that it ain’t about me anymore.  And I just experienced some type of joy, some sort of peace in my life that could only come from the Holy Ghost.”

Every resident’s story is unique, but if they truly desire life-change, they must all square off against their deepest, darkest fears and discover something greater, something that eclipses those fears and leads them to a full and abundant life.    

Death and Rebirth

               Often, there comes a time in the course of a hero’s journey when part of the hero dies.  The person who finishes the journey is simply not the same person who started out.  A transformation must take place for the hero to complete the journey.

               The greatest example of this in all of history and all of literature is the story of Jesus Christ.  For Him to accomplish his purpose on Earth, He had to die and be resurrected.  And His life is a model for us all to live by. In Luke 9:23, He tells us, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”  We are all to be transformed.

               “I tell people, if you see the old Tara, shoot her,” said Tara one day in the City Mission chapel.  “She was a very sick, broken individual just looking for a way out.  The old Tara died.  I’m not that person anymore.  Today, I’m completely different.”

Pete added, “I am a witness to the transformation power of God.  I experienced it.  Just like the Apostle Paul was changed on the Road to Damascus and saw everything differently from then on.”  

Rob chimed in, “If I was still the same person I was, there’s no way I’d ever be able to stay clean.  If I didn’t change everything, I would never say that there could be redemption.”

“Recovery is a strange word,” he said.  “I don’t want to recover anything of who I was.  I want to see who I can become.  A new creation.  This journey is about finding the person that I can become, the man I can be, not recovering the old man.  The old things have passed away.  All things have become new.”  

Return With the Elixir

               The very last step in the hero’s journey is when the hero returns to his ordinary world and shares everything he learned on his journey with others.  

               This last stage in the journey just so happens to coincide with the twelfth and final step of the Alcoholics Anonymous program (“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we try to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs”).  

               Reaching out to help others is a crucial aspect of both the hero’s journey and recovery.  “I have hope today, because I want to help others,” said Tara.  “It does something for me when I can help someone and see a smile on their face.  Knowing that I did something for them just like someone did for me.”

               This part of the story makes the hero’s journey complete, but it also represents a new beginning.  They can finally leave their own wants and needs behind and see a bigger world for themselves.  Now, they have a purpose, a calling, a mission – a future.  Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Conclusion

               I have been blessed to meet and have meaningful conversations with Rob, Tara, and Pete.  When I think about these beautiful, heroic souls trapped in their old lives of addiction, pain, fear, and despair, it breaks my heart.  But they are new creations now.  They are children of God.  They are beloved.  Their honesty, love, compassion, and humility are truly stunning.  It was a treacherous journey that brought them to the place where they are, and today, they represent the very best of us. They are my heroes!  

 

Note: Some of the names and biographical details have been changed to protect the anonymity of the residents.

November 17, 2021
Gary Porter - Communications Manager
Gary Porter
Communications Manager
Gary has been with the mission since 2017. He writes many of our resident stories, getting to know many of them and seeing their transformations at the mission from the start.
gporter@citymission.org

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True Colors

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All Bases Covered

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"I'm a Real Person Again!"

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You just have to sign a letter giving her permission. That can really speed up the process and help you navigate the loop of having to provide ID to get your birth certificate. “Huge props to PA,” she adds. “They have a homeless fee waiver for birth certificates, which is tremendous. Not many states offer that.” Brianna explains that your application should go pretty quick, but sometimes out-of-state requests can get a bit tricky. She tells you a story about a former resident who came to the Mission in January of 2018. She was born in Texas. The only ID she had was an expired driver’s license from Michigan. Her parents were no longer alive, and she really had no family to vouch for her identity or make the request on her behalf. Brianna explained that they were between a rock and a hard place with the Texas Vital Records department and every application they submitted was rejected for six months.“Ultimately, she needed a state ID to get a job, but first, we had to get her birth certificate, because that unlocks all the other doors,” Brianna says. “I give her a ton of credit. She was so patient.” Waiting on the ID documents set her job search back several months, but Brianna and the resident never gave up. At the end of July that year, the birth certificate finally came in the mail. “When it finally came in,” Brianna remembers, “we were both over the moon. We had worked so hard. And she definitely needed it.” When your birth certificate comes in the mail three weeks later, Brianna hands it to you across the table in the Career Training and Education Center. “We’re here to help you remove barriers,” she smiles. “And this birth certificate is going to take barriers away and help you secure employment and housing and get you on your way to independence. It may seem like just a small, little thing right now, but it’s actually a HUGE thing.”You hold the crisp, new birth certificate in your hands. It has your name printed on it in bold letters.“I’m a real person,” you say, without thinking. “This proves that I’m a real person again.” Now, you have the documentation you need to get a job, apply for public housing, rent an apartment, cash a check, apply for student loans, etc. Just a few pieces of paper unlock all of these doors for you. City Mission has helped hundreds of people walk through these doors. With your help, together, we can help hundreds more. Visit www.citymission.org to learn more about how you can help. ‍

Robert Breaks Free

Robert in pavilion
April 23, 2021

Robert sat in a prison cell trying to figure out how to get his life turned around. His addiction had ruined his life, destroyed his relationships with his wife and kids, and ultimately landed him in prison. He knew he needed to change everything if things were going to get any better. Robert, who grew up in the Mon Valley, was baptized in the Catholic church. He was also an altar boy and attended Catholic school. But it wasn’t a happy childhood. Sadly, Robert was molested at a young age by a family member. At age 14, perhaps as a way to cope with his trauma, he began experimenting with drugs and alcohol. “The first time I ever used any type of drugs, I was 14,” he explained. “But it didn’t progress any. And then, when I got into my 20s, when I was able to go to bars, that’s when it progressed. Drinking, you know, basically every day after work.” His drinking was an attempt to numb the pain from his childhood, but it prevented him from seeking help to treat bipolar, anxiety, and Post-traumatic Stress disorders, which all went undiagnosed for decades. In 2010, he managed to break his back, and his doctor prescribed painkillers. “I was drinking every day, but the drug problem didn’t come into effect until I broke my back,” Robert said. “The doctor kept prescribing me opioids. And then, all of a sudden, he cut me off.” After his prescriptions ran out, Robert began to self-medicate with street drugs, which eventually led to a full-blown addiction that lasted for nearly ten years. During that time, he was homeless and living on the street for about eight months. “I slept under bridges. I slept in a doghouse once,” he recalled. “I slept in a tent down by the river, for like two months, until somebody came and burned it down.” Eventually, he wound up in prison, and with nowhere else to go upon his release, he came to City Mission. “This is one of the best opportunities I’ve ever had in my life,” he said of his experience at the Mission. “I am blessed, because there is no other place that you could get what you get here.” Since arriving, Robert has restored his relationship with Christ, worked on his recovery, earned a forklift operator certification and an OSHA Agriculture certificate, coordinated the Mission’s Big Brother mentorship program, and acted as a Resident Assistant, helping to mentor newer intakes. “I’ve seen people come in here who were very successful when they left,” he said, “and I believe I can be one of those people.” Robert was well on his way to independence and a transformed life, but, in November, he tested positive for the Coronavirus. He got really sick and had to be quarantined, but every day, someone from the Mission came to check on him. That care and compassion from the staff impacted him even more than all of the opportunities the Mission had made available to him. “I never realized what Agape love is until now,” he explained. “I’ve come around positive people that are believers, and they really helped me a lot…It’s just totally unreal.” “if you have patience,” Robert added, “God will give you not what you want but what you need.” Robert has capitalized on his opportunities here at City Mission and has turned his life around. You can help our residents, just like Robert, restore their lives and renew their hope. Visit www.citymission.org or call 724-222-8530 to find out how you can help.

Garrick Gets Another Chance

Garrick
April 9, 2021

Garrick had a happy childhood, growing up in Beaver County, and going to church with his family. Life was good. But then, in high school, he made some bad decisions, fell in with the wrong crowd, and got into drugs and alcohol. His life went off course, and he even had to drop out of college. Eventually, his addiction took everything away from him. “My life went downhill really fast because of addiction,” he said. “Basically, it escalated to the point in my 20s and early 30s that I pretty much like burned every bridge with everybody I had in my life. I was in and out of rehab, sleeping on people’s couches, sleeping outside on the street if I had to.” At one point, Garrick managed to stay clean and sober for almost five years. During that time, he met someone and had two beautiful children. He had a job and was creating a good life for himself and his family. “That short time period proved to me that life can be good and worth living,” he explained. “And that there is another way to live.” And then, he relapsed, and his life, once again, spun out of control. “It got to a point where my life was so bad that I needed to try something different,” he said, “because life, the way I was living it, was pretty terrible.” After addiction tore his life and his family apart, Garrick, with nowhere else to turn, came to City Mission in 2018. He stayed for over a year. He got clean and then he moved out. But the everyday battle with addiction lead to a relapse in a very short time. “I basically fell flat on my face again,” he said. “But when I was here the first time, I was doing what I had to do for the addiction side but without God in my life.” Garrick had been very closed-minded about the spiritual aspect of his recovery. He had grown up in the church, but when addiction grabbed ahold of him, he blamed God. “I was like how could God let this happen to me,” he recalled, and he had a difficult time opening his heart back up to God. But when he came back to the Mission for the second time, he came in with a very different perspective. “I was so broken by the time I got back here again that it was like a light bulb went off in my head,” he explained. “Through my trials and tribulations, I basically learned how to open my mind up to the idea that there is a God. I thought to myself, I need to try something different, because whatever I was doing before wasn’t working. I hated myself for so long and I feel like that’s what became natural for me was hating myself. Until I came back here and was here for a couple weeks.” As seen with many addiction journeys, it took two tries for Garrick to turn his life around. But he knew that City Mission was the place where a new life was possible. “Before coming to the Mission, I was broken. Since coming here, I’m finally happy. Happy that I restored my relationship with the Lord. It’s definitely better when you have God on your side.” Now that Garrick has his life back on track, he wants to give back and help other people. He is looking to go back to school for drug and alcohol counseling or nursing. “I truly believe that I need to do something that helps people. Because I’ve had a lot of jobs that didn’t help people and I was miserable,” he said. “I think the biggest thing that I learned at the Mission is how to help others.” Garrick is a new creation. You can help others just like him to turn their lives around at City Mission. Visit www.citymission.org to find out how.

Today I Have Hope

Carmella
January 27, 2021

“I can honestly say that I’ve been depressed most of my life,” Carmella said. She was abused as a child and experienced the death of two husbands in her lifetime. Her first husband died of lung cancer when he was just 38 years old. “Death and grieving have been like a big part of my story,” she noted. Over the years, Carmella turned to drugs to ease the pain of her grief. “Drugs weren’t my problem,” she explained. “They were my solution.” But eventually, the drugs took over and derailed her life. When she was clean, she was successful. She is well-educated. She worked in various careers. She was a counselor, an administrative assistant, a corrections officer. But drugs ripped her life apart, and in 2017, she found herself homeless. “I never thought that my life would turn out the way that it has.” Eventually, she found her way to City Mission, and she has started to put the pieces of her life back together. She has a job and is going to counseling to manage her grief and depression. She is working the steps to stay clean. “The Mission has given me the opportunity to look at how full my life is instead of how little my life is,” she said. “I’m not focusing on what I don’t have. I’m looking at what I have to be grateful for.” Carmella has two daughters, 33 and 15, who are her biggest supporters. “My children understand addiction because we’ve been through it for so long. They’ve seen me at my best. They’ve seen me at my worst. And they’re proud of me now.” She is also working to complete a degree in social work so she can help people who have suffered like she has suffered. “If I can just be a better mother to my children, a better child of God and to be able to get into social work somewhere where I can help people like me, that’s what I’d like to do.” It turns out, Carmella’s life was always fuller and richer than her grief ever let her realize, and now she is finally filled with hope and a promise for the future. “I don’t see myself as a failure anymore,” she said. “I don’t see myself as a burden. I’m able to give back where I took so much. This time last year, I was hopeless. I was depressed. I was spiritually bankrupt. I was gloom. I was doom. And today I have hope.” “This is a place of restoration. This is a place of giving life to the lifeless.”

Matt Celebrates Hope

City Mission resident, Matt, in front of City Mission
January 12, 2021

Growing up without a father, Matt had no stable role model to guide him. He fell in with the wrong crowd and developed harmful addictions and behaviors that took control of his life. He experienced times of sobriety – even developing a relationship with God, going to ministry school, and preaching the gospel. But over time he relapsed and continued down the same destructive path. Finally, when he permanently lost custody of his precious young daughter because of his drug use, he was heartbroken. And he asked the Lord to help him change his life. “It was the beginning of my surrender to Jesus Christ,” he says. He came to the Mission to continue his journey in our Christ-centered program. “I came here looking to connect with my Father, God, and to renew the relationship with Him that I once had,” he explains. “I wanted to pursue God in prayer… in meditation… and in His Word,” Matt says, “and I have found all that here.” And as he embraces God’s forgiveness for his past, “I’m learning to love myself the way God loves me,” he says. Now, with God guiding his steps, he feels called to return to the mission field. “I’ve figured out that I’m truly God’s son… I’ve discovered what my passion is… and what I was put on this earth to do,” he shares. “I’m truly happy, and I can say that with all my heart.” Thanks to the blessing of your support, Matt has hope as a new creation in Christ. “The Mission gives an individual the opportunity to get right with the Lord and to truly change their life.”

At a Crossroads

Steve at the Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House
December 2, 2020

This past June, Steve, a US Army veteran, was struggling through a marital separation when he lost his job without warning. He had been a welder for a local manufacturing plant for the past ten years. With no idea what to do next, he remembered a former co-worker talking about City Mission’s Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House, and he decided to give it a try. “It’s been a blessing ever since,” he explained. “I thank this place for providing stability for me. I was at a crossroads, and they helped me find the right road.” Steve grew up in Houston, PA. His mom was a single mother raising eight kids. After he graduated from high school in 1982, he went into the Army for three years of active duty. “I saw combat and jumped out of airplanes,” he said of his military experience. He also trained to be a medic, which was a difficult job, but he thought at least it would transition into a good career after the military. Unfortunately, he was never able to get a job in the medical field. Eventually, after the military, he moved with a friend to Atlanta, pursuing a job opportunity at a liquor warehouse. “It wasn’t a good place to be,” he said. “I was young. Alcohol led to drugs. That’s where my life spiraled.” To get clean, he moved back home. He went to rehab a few times but was never really focused, and he had to fight for his sobriety for decades. He has been clean now for seven years. When he came to City Mission, he was curious but cautious. Everyone turned out to be much friendlier and more helpful than he expected. “I didn’t think guys would listen to my story and be so willing to help,” he said. “Guys were listening and advising but not telling me what to do. I realized my story isn’t the only one. I related with everybody here. I started to relax and open up.” City Mission’s Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House set him up with counseling through the Vet Center and helped him get funds to go back to school and earn his Commercial Driver’s License. The Mission drove him back and forth to school at Penn Commercial Technical School so he didn’t have to worry about getting a ride. After six weeks, he graduated from the program, and he’s now considering multiple job offers. “The trucking field is so in demand right now,” he explained. “People aren’t shopping in stores. Things are being delivered. I’m looking at so many options.” Recently, Steve was able to land a good job in the trucking industry. He successfully moved out of the Mission and is waiting to begin the next phase of his training out on the road. “I’m proud of myself,” Steve said. “The Mission taught me to stop rushing into everything – to focus on a goal and go for it. They showed me things, but I did it. They led me to water, but I drank on my own. Coming to the Mission is not putting yourself down. It’s an opportunity to better yourself. If you could see how I feel because of what I’ve been able to accomplish, anybody would want to do this.”

“OVERWHELMED WITH JOY”

Kazmiere and her children at the City Mission playground
November 11, 2020

“There are plenty of facilities but none like this one,” says Kazmiere, a resident of City Mission’s Women with Children Shelter. “The compassion of the people in this place is amazing. They want to see you rise up and be successful.” Kazmiere and her three daughters came to City Mission in the spring of 2019. Before that, they were homeless, moving from place to place, staying with family members who would take them in. The moment Kazmiere stepped in the door at City Mission, her anger, fear and anxiety dissolved away. “The burdens of the world just fell off my shoulders,” she explains. “It feels so good not to have to live like that anymore.” During her stay, Kazmiere has solidified her relationship with God, invested more time in her children, and worked on her recovery. She has purchased a vehicle and started nursing school. Now she is looking to move into a place of her own – in time for the holidays – where her children can open presents under the tree.“I can’t wait for Christmas,” she says today. “I’m overwhelmed with joy.” She shares that her experience at the Mission last year gave her a new joy for the holidays.“It was awesome,” she says. “There were so many toys I couldn’t even walk around in my suite. My kids were so happy!”Her newfound joy for Christmas has inspired her to give back: “This year, I’m going to bless a family with gifts, a Christmas meal and some gift cards for Mom,” she says. “I want somebody else to feel how I felt when Christmas came around last year.”This holiday season, Kazmiere will be celebrating Christmas with a renewed spirit and the great joy that comes from a new life.

Jacquie Found Joy at City Mission

Jacquie found joy at City Mission.
October 30, 2020

"City Mission is the Lord's house. If this place can help me, think about all the good things it can do. I am forever attached to this place now," said Jacquie, a current City Mission resident. "Here, I finally began to understand that life isn't totally about me and my needs. When I began to put other people first, I attained peace and joy that I never really had before." Jacquie went into foster care when she was 11, had her first drink at 14, and a year later, ran away from home and started living on the street. She struggled with alcoholism and homelessness for decades. Jacquie drank to numb the pain of her traumatic childhood. “Alcohol was my magic elixir,” she explained. “It seemed to solve all of my problems at first.” Over time, it created even bigger problems for her. One day, during a 24-hour lockdown in jail, she picked up the Bible and started reading. She got down on her knees, and she gave her life to Christ. But she couldn’t quite kick her alcoholism. Not at first. After her release from jail, she went right back to living on the street. She hopped a freight train into Pittsburgh with her friends. “It just became clear to me,” she explained, “that -- because I had gotten saved, you know, I asked Jesus into my heart -- that the life I was living was not what I was supposed to be living. And it got painful. You know, it got spiritually painful to go on the way that I did.” So she went to rehab and has been sober now for over a year! After completing a six-month program at a halfway house, she decided to come to City Mission to continue to strengthen her relationship with Christ. “City Mission provides me with shelter, you know, that needed sanctuary from the world,” she said. “And I just needed that. I can sit here and talk about the things I’ve gained materialistically in sobriety, but the things that mean the most to me are the things you can’t see. And that’s my relationship with God and the joy I have in my heart.” Recently, Jacquie got the highest-paying job she has ever had, working at a distribution warehouse. She was able to save up money and purchase a car. Also, she recently started college to study social work. In the future, she hopes to become a social worker and work to heal those in need. “I want to work in some capacity with alcoholics and addicts. But I would really, really like to help the homeless. Just get into the community and help.”

Life Changing Call

Michael
September 10, 2020

Michael always knew he wanted to go to college. It was his best opportunity to live out a calling to help people. He wanted a job he could be passionate about, one that truly made an impact. But he felt stuck. “He was hoping for a future path that included a career in the medical or counseling field,” explained Colleen Riker, City Mission’s Manager of Medical Services, who worked closely with Michael during his time at the Mission. “His desire was to attend college, but he wasn’t sure that was even a viable option since he was living in a homeless shelter and had no income.” Michael had a very difficult few years. In 2016, he lost a close friend to suicide. “We really didn’t know how he was feeling,” he said of his friend. “I want to be able to help prevent that from happening to someone else.” He even volunteers as a Crisis Counselor for the Crisis Text Line to provide support for those who have lost hope. But his opportunities to help people are limited, and he has long dreamed of earning his degree and becoming a nurse or a social worker. When Michael graduated from Wash High, he began the process of completing his college application, but he hit a roadblock completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). He and his family also had a falling out at that time, which resulted in him getting kicked out of the house. For several years, Michael moved around and hopped from job to job. “I was couch-surfing for a while until I ran out of options,” he explained. When he had exhausted all other options, he made a call to his longtime friend, Brianna Kadlecik, who happened to be the Career Training and Education Center Coordinator at City Mission. “Michael and I met in the youth group for West Washington and Jefferson Avenue United Methodist churches,” Kadlecik explained. “We ended up becoming part of a praise band called the Fools for Christ, where we both sang.” It was a life-changing call for Michael. “I don’t like asking for help,” he said. “I always like to do it myself. When I had to reach out, it was a big step for me.” In May of last year, he moved into City Mission. At first, he was not at all sure that City Mission was the right fit for him. “The first day was really scary,” he said. “There are a lot of people in one room. Disagreements are going to pop up. I tried to stay out of it.” Many of the men around him were much older and in drug and alcohol addiction recovery, which was not one of Michael’s struggles. He felt out of place. “When Michael first came to City Mission in May of 2019, he had a lot of anxiety issues,” said Riker. “But he worked with our Medical Clinic and Drug-Free Pain Management Team to establish a doctor and utilize Alpha-Stim technology to manage his anxiety.” And he managed to stick with the program. He had some meaningful conversations with City Mission staff and his fellow residents, and he eventually decided to stay. “The Mission taught me to not be in a rush, to just let the process work.” He started going to the Career Training and Education Center at the Mission, and he used the computers there to work on his college application. Now that he was living at the Mission, he could complete his FAFSA application form as an independent, and that helped him out tremendously. “We were able to help him finish his application,” said Kadlecik. “This was a barrier that I had seen Michael run up against for years with no hope of getting past it, and It was so rewarding to see him finally get past it. Michael was filled with hope where there had been so much disappointment and frustration.” Kadlecik also helped him write a resume, which eventually helped him get hired at Gabe’s in Washington, where he was able to save up money toward the additional costs of college that his loans would not cover. He was even able to save up enough money to purchase his own vehicle. Then, one day, a letter from California University of Pennsylvania came in the mail at the Mission with Michael’s name on it. “The moment when I was accepted into college, that was a fun moment,” he said. “Everyone was excited!” “There were high-fives and tears of joy when he received his acceptance letter,” said Riker. “Michael was excited when he got the acceptance letter,” remembered Kadlecik. “He made the rounds to all the staff that he’d been working with, and we were all so excited for him. His dream was finally going to become a reality.”

City Mission Vets Give Back

2nd Annivesrary Crabtree-Kovacicek Veterans House
July 8, 2020

On July 3, City Mission’s Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House celebrated two years of life transformation for homeless veterans. “This house is a testament to what can happen when a group of guys trust and believe in each other and work together to accomplish one another’s goals,” said Steve Adams, City Mission’s Manager of Veterans Services. Since opening its doors in 2018, the Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House has helped restore 27 homeless veterans to independent living and helped 33 residents gain sustainable income. Boasting a 74% overall success rate for housing, employment, income, recovery, and spirituality, the Crabtree House is helping to restore hope and confidence for the 22 veterans they serve. City Mission’s program is about veterans helping veterans. The response from local veterans’ organizations who have donated money, clothes, food, and time to the residents has been overwhelming. “The donors have been so generous to this house,” said Tim, an Air Force veteran who came to the Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House in October 2018 after breaking his hip. “The amount of donations that come in -- it’s just an overabundance. For me, it’s important to find a good way to give back.” In addition to getting help for our veterans, our residents are also finding ways to give help to other veterans. Every day, they are helping, supporting, and encouraging each other. “Vets are more willing and able to open up to other veterans,” explained Adams. Tim agreed, “It’s a matter of taking an oath and making a commitment. We all held up our end of the bargain for our country. And maybe that’s what sets us apart. An oath really does mean something to each and every one of us.” Veterans helping and supporting each other is key to their recovery. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, “The most effective programs for homeless and at-risk veterans are community-based, nonprofit, “veterans helping veterans” groups. Programs that seem to work best feature transitional housing with the camaraderie of living in structured, substance-free environments with fellow veterans who are succeeding at bettering themselves.” But the veterans in City Mission’s program are also reaching out to the community and giving back. Wendi Kraemer is the President and founder of Angels Journey Home, a rescue shelter for animals. A few years ago, her organization partnered with the Veterans Administration to create the Angels For Everyday Heroes program, which rescues animals, trains them to be service animals, and then connects them with veterans in need all over the country. “There are so many homeless veterans in need,” she said. “So many suffering every day.” Her organization donates to the Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House every couple of months. “We’re here for vets,” she said. They were able to donate a nice suit to a resident who said he had never owned one. They even donated special shoes to a resident who suffered with foot pain related to diabetes. Last spring, a small group of residents from the Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House went over to Kraemer’s 10-acre facility to give back. “They came and picked up trash, laid mulch all around the property,” Kraemer said. “We have a cat sanctuary, and they helped us out with that. It was great watching them laugh and joke around and just disconnect from their problems.” Joe, an Air Force veteran who came to the Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House in April of last year, was there that day, helping to give back. “It was a lot of fun. I love doing that kind of stuff,” he said. Joe replaced some roof boards on the cat sanctuary. Tim helped Kraemer sort through donated pet supplies. Joe and Tim both agreed it felt good to give back to an organization that is doing good in the world. “It’s good to feel productive,” Tim explained. “That’s rewarding in and of itself.”

A New Lease on Life

Resident 'Tim' takes a smoke break
June 12, 2020

“A New Lease on Life” In 2018, Tim, an Air Force veteran, was living in a hotel behind a bar. He had lost his Mom and his job of nearly twenty years in 2010, and his life had been slowly unraveling ever since. “Before I came here,” he said, “there wasn’t a single activity in my life that didn’t involve a drink – even taking a shower.” On July 6, he tripped over a pine root in the dark and broke his hip. “I was intoxicated,” he explained. “I haven’t had a drink since that night. That just woke me up. I firmly believe God laid His hand on me.” That freak accident eventually led him to City Mission, where, in August 2018, after hip surgery and eight weeks in physical therapy, he began the work of healing his mind, body, and spirit. Tim was born and raised in Monongahela. His Dad, who had been a Navy gunner in World War Two, was a crane operator for a steel mill in McKeesport, and his Mom was a Registered Nurse for a local hospital. He spent 12 years in Catholic School and received an excellent education. After graduation, he knew he needed a change of scenery after dabbling with drugs and alcohol his last few years of high school. Also, his dad foresaw the closing of local mills and knew that times would be hard financially in the Mon Valley for years to come, so Tim joined the Air Force, attending Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX. After Basic Training, he trained to be an Air Crew Life Support Specialist. He would pack and maintain emergency items for the flight crew, such as flight helmets and survival kits – a job requiring significant attention to detail. In 1991, several years after leaving the military and returning home to the Mon Valley, he began working as a custodian for a school district in the South Hills, and he worked there for nearly twenty years. “It was the best job I ever had,” he said. “It wasn’t a high-paying job, but I really liked the people I worked with. It was very close-knit. And it was something different every day. It was the only job I ever had when I didn’t dread going to work.” Then in 2003, his drinking started to become more and more of a problem. “It was my own fault,” he said. “I can’t blame anyone but myself.” In 2010, he went to rehab, but he couldn’t complete the outpatient part of the program, because his mother, who had been ill, passed away. Completing the program was a requirement for returning to work, so he lost his job. Devastated, he moved to Oklahoma with his sister just to get away and start fresh, but that only lasted a few years. “This is home,” he explained. “The roots are sunk deep.” He moved back to the Mon Valley, but with his family all gone, he had nowhere to stay, so he lived for the next five years in a hotel behind a bar until the night he fell and broke his hip. He came to City Mission in August of 2018 and then moved into the Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House that October. “This place affords you all the opportunities you need to heal,” he said. “It’s not a homeless shelter in the way you think. They offer career placement and medical care and classes. It’s a place to heal your mind, body, and spirit. When you heal physically, it helps with your recovery, and that helps you re-establish your relationship with Christ. And you’re just a walking shell unless you have a relationship with Christ. Mind, body, and spirit -- they all three mesh together.” “City Mission gave me a sense of self-worth and put me back in touch with the Lord,” he added. “Knowing that I could be of service is important to me. I just want to do something positive, effect positive change, and I know I’ve made positive contributions here.” “At the Crabtree House, we have confidence and self-respect. Perhaps it’s from our military experience. We’re all brother veterans, all working together for the betterment of all. I’m grateful to be able to have a sense of pride in something. And we take pride in that house.” “Thanks for saving my life,” he said to all the staff at City Mission. “For giving me a new lease on life.”