Behind every person experiencing homelessness is a story of how they got there. “You smelled me before you saw me,” Kevin says, “and with every step I thought, ‘I just can’t go any farther.’” On that day, he was just six blocks from our shelter, six blocks from hope. “I convinced myself that if I could make it to Denver Rescue Mission, then I’d be okay,” he says.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2: 9-10 (NIV)
“All I wanted was to not wake up,” says Kevin. “But I just kept waking up—complete and utter hopelessness—that was my existence for a long time.”
Kevin’s first memory is laying on the bed with his mom and dad—a happy, happy child. Then, his mom turned toward her husband and said, “We’re going to have to do something about this…Kevin has a hernia.”
“I remember dad’s response,” says Kevin. “Anger—because hernias aren’t cheap.”
That was the turning point for Kevin. Lying on the bed beside his parents—a child, helpless and innocent—as he watched his father respond to his mother’s concern with outrage. “He was probably drunk,” says Kevin. “My father was an alcoholic. And from that day on, as a child lying on the bed, I never felt loved by him. I became a burden.”
In grade school, Kevin was diagnosed with a learning disability, and he became a “burden” once again, this time to his teachers. When he was eight years old, he asked his third-grade teacher if he could use the restroom. “No!” she replied. Unable to hold it any longer, Kevin soiled himself. A different teacher teased him, nearly every day,for having long hair, shaming him and calling him a sissy.
It wasn’t long before eight-year-old Kevin perceived people, especially adults, as being bad, unloving and not trustworthy.
“I shut down,” says Kevin. “I withdrew and detached. I couldn’t make friends, and I could never be honest with anyone because of my deep dark secrets.”
Kevin’s secrets went beyond living with a learning disability and having an accident at school. His secrets extended to a family friend’s house, where he was sexually abused from the age of nine to fourteen. The abuse stopped when his abuser committed suicide, and in doing so, left a note behind, blaming Kevin for his death—reaffirming to fourteen-year-old Kevin that people were not trustworthy.
Eventually, the trauma became too much. At age twelve, Kevin started using drugs, and at fourteen years old, he dropped out of school.
His drug abuse began with pot, progressed to alcohol, and then cocaine. By the time he was 18, Kevin was using drugs every day. By age 22, he was unemployable. By 25, he was alone and homeless.
But lonely was something Kevin was accustomed to feeling. Nine-year-old Kevin would have done anything to feel invisible that day he soiled himself. Fourteen-year-old Kevin dreamt of being secluded, far away from his abuser. At age 25, Kevin was finally alone—just him and his drugs—a self-proclaimed victim of his experiences. “For me, being invisible was more comfortable,” says Kevin. “People quit paying attention to me. In fact, they wouldn’t even look at me.”
He lived in his car for a while, eventually selling it for $300. Then, he moved in behind a dumpster. He stayed there for several months before he began wandering the streets, sleeping in alleyways and on sidewalks. For fifteen years, he wandered throughout the city, searching for nothing, searching for anything.
“Touch and human contact was painful,” Kevin says. “I never spoke to my mother or my father because of the guilt and shame that I had experienced. I couldn’t stop wandering. I couldn’t stop using. I didn’t think I would ever get out of it. And I was willing to let people do anything to me so I could get my drugs.”
Kevin’s lifestyle took its toll, and he eventually became sick. “I had sores all over my body. I couldn’t breathe. I was getting sicker and sicker by the day, and I just knew this was it. I was about to die.”
“I thought of my mom. I thought, ‘I can’t die out here without her knowing.’ I convinced myself that if I can make it to Denver Rescue Mission, then I’d be okay. I had taken meals at the Mission over the years,” says Kevin, “and I knew the people there cared.”
But on this day, Kevin was still six blocks from our building, six blocks from hope. Every step was painful. He stumbled along the sidewalk. Sores covered his body, from his neck to his feet—he was covered in blisters and scars. His skin—crummy and dirty, scaled by the sun. His shoes were untied, his clothes unkempt as his left pant leg dragged on the concrete behind him. “You smelled me before you saw me, and with every step I thought ‘I just can’t go any farther.’”
“But I made it. I made it the door, and I knocked on it.”
We opened the door. We welcomed Kevin inside. We helped him clean up. We offered him a meal. And we did what we seek to do every day at Denver Rescue Mission—we provided Kevin with an opportunity to connect, to engage with our staff and to learn more about our life-changing programs. “It was probably the first time I heard a real, caring, human voice in four years,” says Kevin. “I just knew that Denver Rescue Mission was where I needed to be.”
He decided to enroll in the New Life Program, eventually graduating, and now works as an Emergency Services Coordinator at the Mission, doing the same thing that was done for him so long ago—welcoming our homeless friends and neighbors inside, engaging with people experiencing homelessness and providing opportunities to connect and build relationships. All with the end goal of life-long transformation.
“I always had the fear that if people really knew me, then they wouldn't like me,” says Kevin. “But it’s proven to be opposite. I’ve learned to trust people and to be transparent. Despite my past, the more people I open up to, the more they love me and encourage me. Today, I feel so loved, and it all started here, at this place, at Denver Rescue Mission.”
When we opened the door for Kevin that day, we had no idea that he would graduate our New Life Program and end up working with us. For Kevin, it all started with knowing he needed to ask for help and making the six block walk to the doors of Denver Rescue Mission. But for us, it all starts with you, because without you we have no doors to open. No services to provide. And no programs to offer. Without your donations, we cannot change lives. Thank you!
Letter from the CEO
During the past six months, the Mission has been engaged in a strategic planning process with the goal of improving our programs and services. In late November, we launched a strategic plan that includes 15 main initiatives we hope to implement over the next three years. One of the initiatives that is an immediate priority for us is Redesigning Denver Rescue Mission’s Residential Family Programs.
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Kevin's story was featured in the February 2018 issue of Changing Lives titled “Six Blocks to Hope”
Also in this issue:
- Download Your Free Copy of our 2017 Annual Report
- Graduation at the Mission
- Christine On Why Denver Rescue Mission Matters
- Letter from the CEO