Monday Morning Mercy / Issue 18 / AUG 17

After years of crippling depression, alcoholism and broken family relationships, Damien spent his first night on the streets of Phoenix. He had been unsuccessful in finding steady work after losing his job. He was ashamed of being unable to support his wife and child. His extended family had closed their doors on him. He didn’t want to continue his drinking habit, but it was the only way to escape all of his troubles, if only for a little while, until the buzz wore off. He was trapped with his thoughts and depression. He needed a clean slate, but had nowhere to turn. “The first night almost felt like a fresh start,” Damien said. “But soon, very soon, the reality sank in. The world was not a friendly place, and it didn’t care about you.”

His first weeks on the streets were a blur. Date and time melted together as he struggled to just meet his basic needs every day. Eventually Damien found Central Arizona Shelter Services and St. Vincent de Paul’s dining room down the street.

“Every day, there was a line, like a mile long, of people who were hungry. I was one of them,” Damien said. At the dining room, Damien learned about St. Vincent de Paul’s main campus, which provides showers, clothing, food and counseling. “Being on out there on the streets, I had on the same clothes, day in and day out. I wanted to be presentable to people who knew me, because I didn’t want anyone to know I was homeless,” Damien said. “It wasn’t until I visited the main campus for showers, clothes and a clean shave, did I start feeling better.”

Damien remembers meeting with staff and volunteers who gave him guidance and encouragement. “I may not remember their names, but I’ll never forget their faces and the kind things they said to me,” he said. The encouragement and support Damien received through St. Vincent de Paul helped him survive the streets and gave him a start to working out of homelessness.

“Once I was cleaned up and presentable, people weren’t afraid of me anymore,” he said.

Damien went through rehab to kick his drinking and found help for his depression through a metal health services provider. He received Social Security benefits, housing and case management. His life was stabilized and he had a roof over his head, but he was unsatisfied.

“It didn’t suit me, because I wasn’t doing anything with my life,” Damien said. “I needed to work. Someone at the clinic told me I was smart,” he added. “And I believed him.”

From there, he took classes at South Mountain Community College and enrolled in recovery programs. He gained a sense of self-worth. He met a peer-support specialist whose journey was similar to his own. “His story was almost identical to mine,” Damien said. “I realized that if he could succeed, I could too.”

Damien did succeed. He is an employment coach at an organization that helps people recover from crises situations and get back on their feet. He has since remarried and reconciled with his child. During meetings with his clients, he often remembers his experience on the streets and the refuge he found in the compassion of St. Vincent de Paul staff and volunteers. He draws on his experiences and shares his story with clients to help them develop their own paths to success.

“When you are really struggling, you look for someone who is kind,” Damien said. “When your own family doesn’t have sympathy for you, it makes you feel worse. The stranger is the one who is kind. I’ll never forget that at St. Vincent de Paul.”

Stories like this don’t happen without the support of people like you. You really do have the power to Feed. Clothe. House. Heal. our neighbors in need. Contribute to the cause by donating, volunteering, or learning more. 

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