Three of the most challenging life experiences I can think of are being homeless, kicking a heroin addiction, and staying clean year after year. It’s hard for me to imagine what any of these experiences, individually, must feel like. Recently, I was privileged to hear the story of man who did not one, but all three of these things at the same time.
Prior to coming to Pathways last fall, Vernon had been living on the streets for 18 years. He struggled with heroin addiction for many of those years, after a nastly divorce left him feeling like there was “nothing to live for.” As the years passed, he had several friends pass away from debilitating addiction and overdose. “I watched them…and I started saying ‘This is not the way I want to die.’” Vernon decided to build a new life for himself. He moved to Philadelphia, dedicated himself to recovery, and quit heroin for good in 2006.
Challenge number two was staying clean in the unstable environment of the streets. “Everywhere I went, people got high,” Vernon remembers. The same resourcefulness that got him off drugs while homeless drove him to get creative. “I would get up early in the morning at the shelter, leave before everybody got up and stay away from everyone. I just ran the streets, ran my body down, went to meetings, and came home.” Morning after morning for 10 years, Vernon found ways to put himself in healthy environments that kept him away from drugs.
During that time, the crucial teams that do outreach for Philadelphia were steadily building a relationship with Vernon. From time to time, he was offered housing with other programs, but something always fell through. So when a long time outreach connection told Vernon about Pathways, he was unimpressed. “He kept telling me it was a good program, but you know I’d heard that so many times.” Those doubts quickly faded when, four weeks after being admitted to Pathways to Housing PA, Vernon moved into a place of his own.
“What I love about Vernon is that he’s always in a positive mood-always,” says Pathways Assistant Team Leader Ellie Tremble. This certainly holds true for the way he talks about his apartment. “Heaven couldn’t be no better,” he says. “Every morning I wake up, and I’m like ‘Thank you Jesus!’” He describes feeling so safe in his apartment. “I can actually go to sleep and be able to shut my eyes. For years I couldn’t really sleep- now I can sleep for real.” Choosing what to do, and when to do it is a luxury. Vernon gets to decided when to shower, when to go to sleep, and even when to use the bathroom. “I remember having to find somewhere to go because it was cold, or it was raining,” he recalls. These simple delights are why Vernon calls his new home “my palace.”
Working with each one of our clients is a privilege. They all bring unique strengths and abilities, amazing stories and valuable insight to help us grow as an agency. What Vernon brings is an amazing determination to see life for its opportunities, and make lemonade. In the last 10 years, he’s gotten clean, maintained sobriety, and moved off the streets. We can only imagine where the next 10 will take him, and we are so excited to be part of that journey.
Your contributions and support were a vital part of getting Vernon off the streets. Thank you for giving him a new home!
About the Author
Becca DeWhitt is an MBA candidate at Temple University. She is passionate about creating a world where everyone's experience and perspective is valued, and sees story-telling as a powerful tool to that end.
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