“You should never give up on anybody. Everybody has to reach a point where they want help. And God can make it happen. He did with me, and I’m living proof.” – John, Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, Outreach Specialist
“Just an endless cycle of work, party. Partying gets out of hand. Get in trouble. Go to jail. Wind up being homeless. Living on the streets.”
John’s journey into chronic homelessness began as a middle-schooler when he started drinking and smoking marijuana. Once he reached high school, he began abusing harder drugs, such as cocaine and LSD. As an adult, he started to cycle between working various jobs, partying too hard, landing in jail, winding up homeless, entering a shelter, and getting his life back on track, only to start the cycle all over again.
When things were good, he was always able to find employment, but inevitably, his substance abuse took over and he’d find himself homeless once again. “I never connected the dots that every time I got in trouble, it had to do with alcohol and cocaine,” John says. “That was the one common factor to everything.”
John eventually set up camp in “the Jungle”, underneath I-5. “As it turned out, it was one of the most dangerous spots in the Jungle,” John says. “I understand now … that there were some people who wanted to shoot me right there on the spot because they didn’t know who I was.”
John says it was “draining living in the Jungle. You really had to be on point all the time,” he says. “You had to stay up most of the night, because that’s when the predators would prowl.”
John learned where and how to get meals from various shelters, including Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission’s downtown Men’s Shelter on Pioneer Square. John says he always liked coming to the Mission because staff members there always greeted people “from the heart.”
According to Phillip Hong, the Mission’s outreach administrator, “People who struggle with chronic homelessness, that’s their life. That’s what they know as normal … they’ve been living on the streets or in a tent for decades … You have to change their entire mindset, where they have to realize there’s a better life for them, or there’s a healthier … a God-given, blessed life for them. And to change that is very difficult.”
The Mission addresses the barriers of chronic homelessness through building strong, healthy relationships with homeless neighbors, gaining their trust over time and inviting them into recovery.
John managed to make some friends during his time in the Jungle and became part of a community of people who looked out for each other. One night, some of John’s friends in the Jungle challenged him, asking him why he was wasting his life on the streets. They encouraged him to enter into the Mission’s Men’s Recovery Program.
With his friends’ encouragement, John entered the Mission. Though it was scary at first, he knew he was doing the right thing. “I was taking a very big step,” he says. “I … not only came to realize that I had a problem, but I internalized it.”
John says the Mission met his immediate needs, helped him relax, and helped him detox, both physically and emotionally. “It gave me hope, is what it did.”
After graduating, John began working for the Mission, first as a resident intern, and eventually landing in his current position, as outreach resource specialist.
Today, John looks back on his past struggles with homelessness and sees a different person. “I have hope,” he says. “I have joy in my life. And the peace I always sought … is also in my heart. I understood what a true relationship with my Lord was and I rededicated myself to him. I began to understand what true friendships were and I developed some true friendships.”
In spite of the rising challenges for our homeless neighbors in the greater Seattle area, due in part to the COVID pandemic, John remains optimistic. He loves being “God’s voice, being God’s hands and feet, to show people that there’s still hope, that they matter.”
The Mission is a nonprofit ministry that loves and cares for our homeless neighbors throughout greater Seattle. We want everyone to know, no matter their circumstances, they are loved and cared for, by us and by God. Learn more: ugm.org/giveBIG