This story is the first in what I hope will become a multi-part feature of the true stories of Center for Respite Care clients. Our client’s name has been changed to protect his privacy, but the article itself is not fiction.
From Morning to Night: Rick’s Story
“My sister didn’t let me drink in the house or come home drunk so I would, literally, go to the store, get a six pack, drink it and then sit out on a cold freezing bench all night long, just to get that alcohol. I needed that alcohol in me.”
As a state-qualifying wrestler in high school, Rick* never gave much thought about the possibility of being homeless one day. When he arrived at the Center for Respite Care, however, his leg was broken in two places, his cast was in tatters, and his hand was badly injured from a piece of embedded glass. He seemed far from his days as a star athlete.
“I had no crutches, no medications, no idea of what I should do,” he says, recalling how quickly possessions get stolen at shelters. “People are always watching, but you can’t watch your stuff all the time. You look away for one second and it’s gone. That’s your everything – it only takes a split second and everything you have is gone.”
So how did Rick become homeless? A turning point was the death of his father. Rick had taken care of both parents until his mother’s death in 2002, and continued to care for his father until his death in 2004. Having left college years earlier, Rick watched friends graduate, get married, and start on lives of their own.
While caring for his parents, Rick’s drinking continued, but it wasn’t until his father’s death in 2004 that Rick found himself unable to function. He did odd jobs for a landlord in return for an apartment, but when his building was sold, Rick was evicted. His sister took him to a local shelter and he later completed inpatient treatment for alcoholism. When a close friend relapsed the following summer, however, Rick followed, spiraling downward once more.
Back at the shelter months later, Rick’s alcoholism escalated as he became ensnared in the vicious cycle of bumming money, buying alcohol, and getting drunk. Looking back, he remembers the toughness of life on the streets, saying, “If I would’ve stayed down there, I’d be dead by now. . . people don’t realize how quickly you can become homeless, and how hard it is to get out of it. In order to get help, you have to know these places [social service agencies] exist, know how to get there, and find some way to do what they tell you.”
Rick sought help, but other programs couldn’t accept him because of his alcohol abuse. One social worker, however, pulled him aside. “If you really want help,” she said, “be at the front desk [of the shelter] tomorrow at 8:00am.” Rick was there by 6:30am.
At the Center for Respite Care, Rick finally got the medical treatment he needed. “In one day, I went from being barefoot on the street to having clean clothes, something nice to eat, clean, sober people around me, new crutches, and medicine. From morning to night, I was living in a totally different way.”
Today, Rick is looking forward to starting physical therapy for his hand and hoping that his broken leg will heal properly without surgery. He is working toward permanent sobriety through Alcoholics Anonymous and reconciling with family. “My sisters really want to see me be sober,” he says, with a hint of sadness, “I don’t feel left out—I left myself out—but I miss being around them, just being there for them.”
*Name changed to protect privacy.
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