“They have it already because God created them. We’re just helping them see something that’s always been there.”
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, … encouraging one another…
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)
"Is anyone looking or work?" the stranger said looking around the small room at a service center in downtown Denver.
Chris glanced around to see who might answer, and slowly raised his hand. He didn’t have anything better to do, and before he knew it, he was in the back of this man’s pick up truck, heading to someone’s house to provide lawn care for the day. As they drove down I-25, Chris took stock of his situation. “I was worried someone would see me in the back of the truck,” he says. “Or worse, that this guy was actually a psycho.”
He had never done this before. To be honest, he’d never even mowed a lawn before, but it wasn’t the work that weighed heavily on his mind. Being homeless was an altogether new experience.
He grew up in Los Angeles, he had parents who loved and supported him and he went to Boston University, graduating with a Bachelor’s in Communication in 1997. Ten years later, he moved to Denver to be closer to family, but in 2012, he suddenly found himself facing homelessness alone—his family having moved halfway around the world to Australia.
After being laid off, he struggled to find a full-time job and eventually got evicted from his apartment. He couch-surfed for several months with various friends until the person he was living with began to use his situation to manipulate him. “I wasn’t sure if I would have housing each night depending on their mood,” he says.
On Thanksgiving 2012, Chris finally left with nothing but a backpack of belongings. He walked eight miles that night to the only 24-hour Walmart he knew. “It was the only place I could think of where I could be until the sun came up,” he says. “That evening was jarring.”
The next day, he came to the Mission for help. “I knew I wanted to better my circumstances, but I didn’t know how to make that happen,” he says, “so I came here for help to find a solution.
I literally just needed shelter.”
During the day, he attended a work-readiness class and went to the library to search for jobs. At night, he returned to the Mission for a meal and a bed. But registering for a bed every night left Chris in a constant state of survival. He needed more stability in his daily routine, so he volunteered to help set up sleeping mats in the chapel in return for a reserved bed while he got back on his feet. “The worst thing about being homeless is getting complacent,” he explains. “I fought hard to stay productive with my time.”
Staying productive is how he ended up helping that stranger with yard work for a day, and eventually, he found a job delivering water. “I was at my wit’s end. I wasn’t making enough money to get my own apartment, so I was stuck working and continuing to live at the Mission,” he says.
That’s when Chris caught the eye of Lawrence Street Shelter Supervisor, Lenny Ford. Lenny knew firsthand the struggles Chris was going through because he was once a guest at the Mission and had also volunteered to help set up mats each night. He knew Chris was working hard to change his situation, so he asked him to take a part-time position at the overflow emergency shelter. “At my highest point of desperation, that job fell in my lap,” Chris says. “I didn’t realize everything I did here was leading up to my current job.”
Today, Chris is a Facility Assistant at the Lawrence Street Community Center. Sometimes, that means he enforces rules that keep our guests safe, and other times, it means he gets to talk with guests about their struggles and circumstances. For him though, the job is all about building community. “I think community is all about giving people hope that they still matter,” he says.
Chris says that at the very center of this thing we call community is one simple concept: helping people reconnect with their dignity. “Dignity isn’t something we give to people,” Chris says. “They have it already because God created them. We’re just helping them see something that’s always been there.”
Homelessness knows no season, so throughout this summer, the Lawrence Street Community Center is helping people who are experiencing homelessness—offering meals, showers, laundry facilities, phone access to call family or service providers, and more. And the Lawrence Street Shelter next door continues to provide safe shelter for 315 men each night.
By providing meals, shelter and other services, the Mission helps people remove the stress of wondering where their next meal might come from, where they will sleep that night, where they can get their clothes cleaned, and where they can simply get a drink of water or use a clean restroom. This enables people struggling through poverty and homelessness to focus on long-term solutions.
With their basic needs met, people can experience a little bit of stability during a chaotic time in their lives. And that stability can lead to a total life change like it did with Chris.
But it’s only possible because of your support. Our guests and program participants rely on us to help meet their needs at a critical point in their journey, and we rely on the faithful support of donors like you who partner with us to change lives in our city every day.
Thank you for helping us build the relationships in our community that lead to long-term transformation in the lives of the people we serve.