Together with you, the Mission is able to meet people like Matt at their physical and spiritual points of need so they can become self-sufficient members of society.
“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
Deuteronomy 31:8 (ESV)
Thoughts of his first homeless experience raced through Matt’s mind as he stood on the shore of the Arkansas River preparing to face a challenging whitewater rafting adventure for the first time. “When I was homeless, all I had was my clothes, phone, toothpaste …. It was like I was clinging to a small piece of driftwood and floating down a raging river. I was terrified,” he says. Almost two years ago, Matt was living on the street alone, addicted to alcohol and drugs. In survival mode, he struggled each day to meet basic needs like securing food and shelter and finding a safe place to use the restroom. The fear that gripped his heart on the river that day in June reminded him of that struggle to stay alive.
“I slept behind a dumpster on 3rd and Broadway,” he says, explaining what it was like to live on the streets. But in addition to dealing with extreme weather and other dangers, Matt had discovered other, seemingly trivial things he had to learn, like memorizing the trash pickup schedule. “It was pretty terrifying at times, waking up to a dumpster being dropped next to me” he says. “They aren’t expecting someone to be sleeping behind the trash can, and if it gets dropped on top of you, you could get seriously hurt.”
Matt says the constant fear and anxiety about his own survival was reminiscent of his childhood. “When I was 16, I got emancipated from my parents due to a lot of physical abuse,” he explains. Thankfully, his grandfather stepped in to help. “He helped me get a condo, a job and a car,” Matt explains, but after he graduated from high school, he started getting into trouble. “I didn’t know how to cope with the abuse I experienced, so I bottled up all the anger, depression and hate, finding an outlet in alcohol and drugs.”
Later, Matt met a young woman at a party, and they ended up having a child together. Matt felt it was his responsibility to marry her, and they grew to love each other. But when she died giving birth to their second child, Matt sank deeper into his addictions. While he struggled through depression and addictions, his grandparents cared for his young daughter and new son. Matt says he spent nearly $250,000 on drugs and alcohol before he was 23 years old. “I sold my car and my condo … all for drugs,” he says. “I lost so many things I ended up homeless.”
After more than 60 days living on the street, he finally found Denver Rescue Mission, almost by accident. He walked into the Lawrence Street Shelter one morning, looking for a place to use the restroom. “I asked the guy at the front door why there were people sitting in the chapel area,” he explains. “He said it was a homeless shelter, but I didn’t even know what that meant.”
That’s when he learned how the Mission helps people experiencing homelessness, and that night, he started sleeping on a warm bed at the Mission instead of behind a filthy dumpster.
About two months later, Matt sat in the chapel listening to a sermon from a volunteer. “They were talking about the prodigal son—how he wanted all his money and spent it all drinking and partying,” he says. “It reminded me of my life. I wanted everything right away, and then I lost everything.”
That night, he picked up a Bible and began to read instead of going to sleep. “I had never prayed before,” he says, “so I didn’t know what I was doing. I just started talking to God. I said something like, ‘So, I know I’m 23 years old, and I’ve never once prayed—sorry about that. How do we do this?’” Matt laughs as he describes his first prayer—more like a wish list for Santa Claus than a traditional prayer. “I was very childish in my understanding,” he says, explaining how he started to recognize God’s position in his life.
That’s when Matt’s situation began to change.
The next morning, he joined the New Life Program. “The program has been like a giant raft that rescued me when I was drowning,” he says. “I still have to go through the rapids of life, but it’s a lot easier to get through them now.”
When he first joined the program, he struggled to apply the things he was being taught through classes, counseling and case management. At times, he admits he didn’t want to listen to his chaplain. “I was so pig-headed,” he says, shaking his head. “I just wanted to get things done so that I could leave the program. I had to learn to slow down, enjoy my time here and learn from the experience.” He says it’s similar to how he felt on the Mission’s annual rafting trip. Though he followed the instructions of the river guide, all he wanted to do was paddle as hard as he could until he was through the rapids. But that’s not always the best way to navigate the rough waters; and in life, Matt was also learning to rely on others for guidance.
As he prepares to graduate this fall, he says the biggest takeaway from the program is his relationship with Jesus. When he came to the Mission, his chaplain and other Mission staff helped guide him, and now Jesus will help guide his life too. “I’m looking forward to teaching my kids about Jesus,” he says. “I want to give them the life they deserve, but more importantly, I want to give them a life with God.”
Without your generous support, the Mission couldn’t offer basic services like meals and shelter or long-term programs to our homeless and struggling neighbors. Together with you, the Mission is able to meet people like Matt at their physical and spiritual points of need so they can become self-sufficient members of society.
Whether it’s through emergency services or life-changing programs, we’re dedicated to “getting in the boat” alongside people in need and helping them overcome these challenges, but we couldn’t do it without you. Thank you for your generous support!