Homelessness is rarely something you see coming. One day, you may be getting by fine. The next day, something unexpected happens and your life is changed forever. A house fire, a workplace injury, the death of a loved one... These events upend lives and drain savings. More often than you might expect, they cause homelessness. Many people do not have the strong safety net needed to overcome one or more of these unfortunate events. That is why your generosity matters so much. You provide the safety net. You give the folks we serve the best possible chance to escape homelessness. Rich is one client who has suffered from circumstance more than anything else. Three years ago, he held a leadership position at his manufacturing job in Utah. Then, his father was diagnosed with late-stage cancer, and Rich began caring for his father full-time. Next came an unexpected pandemic, joblessness, and homelessness. Despite the situation he finds himself in, Rich is hopeful that things will get better very soon. This is his story. Rich was born in Georgia and grew up in Texas. He lived in Colorado briefly and then moved to Utah, where he spent most of his adult life. It was Utah where Rich developed a love for nature. He would spend hours hiking the trails around his hometown of Ogden. The outdoors put Rich at peace, and they helped him escape some of the dark emotions of depression. “There’s this one steep trail that basically winds up a mountain,” Rich recalls. “There’s a spot where I used to go with my dog (a red heeler named Lady), and we’d have lunch. We’d sit under a shade bush and look out, and you could see the whole valley below. That’s one of my memories that I love.” Eventually, Rich decided to seek intentional help for his depression. He joined a mental health program at a homeless shelter in Ogden, although he was not homeless himself. Rich did well in the program, and he eventually began working for the shelter as their truck driver. He would pick up donations and bring people to appointments, among other tasks.
Rich often worked alongside men who were in the shelter’s treatment program. Most of them struggled with drug or alcohol addiction. Rich did not drink or do drugs (he still doesn’t), and he saw himself as a mentor for those men. He would spend up to 8 hours a day with one or two other guys in the truck. During that time, he got to know them very well. He listened to their feelings, their frustrations, and the circumstances that led them to addiction or homelessness. “I felt I was helping a lot,” Rich says. “People try to box in homeless people, to say they’re this way or that way. But they’re normal people. Some of them have gone through some rough, rough stuff that you don’t know about. Sometimes the only thing that switches people from being [homeless] to having a regular life is someone being there to listen.” Rich worked at that shelter for five years. “It was a very rewarding job,” he tells us. “I liked that job.”
Next, Rich worked in the saline department of a medical manufacturing company in Utah. He started in an entry-level position but was promoted to line lead within the first year. He ran his own line for 8 years. “It was a really good position,” says Rich. “I enjoyed it, and the benefits were great.” Then one day, eleven years into his job, Rich received terrible news. His father had been diagnosed with severe colon cancer. “They didn’t catch it in time,” says Rich. “Either he had to go to a permanent treatment facility, or someone was going to go help him.”
Being the only one in his family without children, Rich accepted this responsibility. He quit his job and moved to Montana to take care of his father. “I left Utah with $18,000, from my 401(k),” says Rich. “That was everything I had.”
For two years, Rich looked after his father.“Pretty much full-time, I was caring for him,” Rich tells us. “Being so sick, he didn’t have any income. I was helping pay rent, buying groceries…it didn’t take long for that $18,000 to run out.”
When his father passed away last year, Rich found himself in an even worse situation than he could have imagined. A pandemic had overtaken the United States. “Everything was shut down in Montana,” says Rich. “Literally everything. Finding a position, other than at a grocery store…it wasn’t going to happen.”
While caring for his father, Rich had occasionally worked at a stone quarry. That was shut down, too. Rich was jobless and now on the verge of homelessness. He doesn’t regret his decision to leave Utah, though. He was not going to leave his father alone for his final years.
“I would do it again,” Rich tells us. “I’m not blaming anybody for my position now. It’s just the way it is. If COVID never happened, I probably wouldn’t be in this position.”
Rich left Montana and traveled to Fargo, where some friends were living. He stayed in a Fargo shelter and looked for a job. He quickly found a position just a few blocks away. After a month-and-a-half, he accepted a coworker’s offer to rent him a room.
Shortly after moving in, however, Rich was disturbed to discover that his coworker and now roommate was using drugs. Rich had gotten good at identifying signs of drug use during his employment at the Utah shelter, but he hadn’t seen them this time. Regardless, Rich did not want anything to do with it. “I can’t live around that,” Rich said. “I moved right out of there.”
Rich was homeless again, but there was a waiting period before he could return to the Fargo shelter. With the coldest winter days approaching, he needed a place immediately.
“I got on my phone and looked up homeless shelters," Rich says. "The first place I saw was Northlands Rescue Mission, and then I started looking to see what jobs were available here.”
Rich made the trip to Grand Forks and has stayed at the Mission for the past two months. His top priority while here is finding a new job. Then, he can move right into an apartment. Rich completed a large part of the housing process while in Fargo, so he is ahead of the game.
Every day, Rich spends some time checking job listings. He uses his phone or the Mission’s Kickstart computer lab to visit Indeed.com, where he can submit applications at the click of a button. When he’s not job hunting, Rich takes charge of the Mission’s laundry room. While among the washers and dryers, he enjoys listening to podcasts about Christianity or fitness.
It’s a tough situation that Rich finds himself in. The pandemic is not over. It’s winter, and he doesn’t have a car. He also has arthritis, which excludes him from certain forms of labor. Despite this, he’s not close to giving up.
“I’m hopeful,” says Rich. “I have a roof over my head. I’m getting food. I’m surviving, and there are a lot of people out there who are not. I just thank God for the people who are willing to help…”
We know that it’s only a matter of time before Rich joins the hundreds of other Mission clients who have gone from homeless to housed. He has that opportunity because of you. It is your kindness, your willingness to help that has given him the support he needs. On behalf of Rich, and everyone at Northlands Rescue Mission, thank you for that blessing.
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. - Philippians 4:13
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