Mark talks about having a sense of community, a support system geared for success, and feeling safe and secure - perhaps for the first time. Now in Pathlight HOME’s Restore Program, the traumatic memories of a five-year-old living in a small Florida town flash in his 57-year-old mind: a burning cross in the front yard…poisoned animals… an FBI agent…a schizophrenic brother… small country schoolhouses…desegregation…divorced parents.
Growing up with “a mother who probably should never have had kids,” and a brother who was “malicious and mentally ill,” Mark became independent at a young age. Though a nurse, his mother couldn’t grasp the facts that one son had psychological issues and the other craved emotional support.
Mark, who was white with black friends, reacted to the racial strife during his schools’ desegregation by becoming angry and a loner. “The less I had to do with humanity, the better,” he remembers. “Overall, my attitude was negative. I became a rebel. I hated everything, but I didn’t act in a negative way (to a racial situation)…didn’t actively start trouble…but I would fight if provoked. It was a toxic atmosphere.”
“One of the traits I developed was paranoia,” says Mark of his young years. “That same paranoia has saved my life! The first thought that comes into my mind is, ‘What do you want?’ I’m only paranoid when I’m wrong,” he reasons.
Smoking pot and clashing with a teacher ended Mark’s school days, landing him “locked up in juvenile detention for two years.” Released from jail to a father he hadn’t seen in 12 years, Mark moved with his dad’s family to Orlando, got a job, and paid them rent. When he learned his dad was “being paid (by the system) to take care of me,” he left.
Mark got involved in a relationship and began working in a restaurant. However, he “never became ambitious…to realize it could become a career,” blaming his “stunted childhood.” When they broke up after 10 years and the restaurant went out of business, he felt he had nothing left.
He sold his belongings, packed his clothes in eight suitcases and began life on the streets of downtown Orlando. Mark wrapped the suitcases in garbage bags and buried them in a field. “When I needed clean clothes, I’d go dig it up. I didn’t know about laundromats. When something got dirty, I’d throw it away.”
For 12 or 13 years, he wandered the streets, stayed at homeless shelters, and got arrested for trespassing or “sitting and reading.” He worked as much as he could at day labor jobs, and sought places to sleep, away from predators. “If you’re lucky, you’ll find a good spot.” When he was able to save some money, he stayed in a hotel for several nights, risking the loss of his spot.
“People liked the way I worked,” he says with pride. That led to a two-year, full time position at a prominent downtown business club, along with their help to find housing. The job ended with a change in management, and Mark found himself back on the streets, battling to get his unemployment compensation. When it came through thanks to Legal Aid, a large sum burned a hole in Mark’s pocket.
“One of the first things I did was to get new clothes,” he recalls. “I went to a motel and to a restaurant. It gave me a sense of belonging.” He was able to exist for more than two years, “sometimes in the streets; sometimes in motels,” but this time was different. “There was no work.”
“Sometime in 2015, these two gentlemen showed up, Joel and Brad from the (Health Care Center for the Homeless) HOPE Team,” Mark recalls. “By this time, I’m shot mentally…getting physically weaker every day.” He has since been diagnosed with cancer, diabetes and a degenerative disk in his back.
“Joel told me about the Restore Program. I told him, ‘No, you’re insane! That program can’t exist.’” But the program does exist; and Mark “was manic” about getting in, only calming down when Restore Programs Manager Audrey Sanford told him he “was in.”
Mark’s paranoia gripped him his last night on the streets. “I have never been so terrified in all my life (about something bad happening). I have 12 hours to go before I’m behind (my own) walls. I stayed up all night. God likes to do practical jokes!”
“Finally, they handed me my key,” he smiles. “When you go in, you have the basics. You have to build up…” And now that Mark receives disability benefits, he is trying to build and is “absolutely happy to pay my rent.” It goes fast, though. He’s working on budgeting skills and is very grateful for hygiene kits and other donated items from the community.
“One thing that keeps me grounded here is that I’ve done nothing to be given this chance. I haven’t earned this. Other people have made it possible for me to live, not just survive,” he explains. “People need to understand that the main rule and regulation (in Restore) is to act like a grown-up. It’s up to you to decide if you’re a success or not. If you fail, you fail…NOT the program."
And the greatest benefit to this former man on the streets? “A sense of security and safety. You’ve got four walls, a door and a lock. You can’t buy that with money. A sense of security is invaluable.”
Growing up in a Pennsylvania household with seven kids and parents who worked, Glen describes his childhood as “a rough foundation.” They lived in a tough neighborhood and Glen was dubbed a “slow learner” in school, never getting above a third grade reading level. His memories, though, center on trying to protect his mother from his physically abusive father.
“If something didn’t go right, he took it out on her,” Glen remembers. “She said she stayed for the kids. When I was almost 18, we told her to leave him…(that) we’ll be fine. She said ‘no.’”
Instead, Glen left home when he was 19 years old. He worked in restaurants and other jobs, but lost them because he had begun to drink. Eventually hitting rock bottom, “I put myself into rehab,” he says. Living at the rehabilitation facility for three years, he worked in their warehouse and earned a small stipend. Not enough money, however, to travel home when his parents died.
Finding a job in an Altoona, PA thrift store, Glen got married in 1991. Together, the couple had two sons. When his wife died in 2001, the now single dad did his best to raise his boys alone. After two years, he decided to move the family to Orlando and warm weather. Things went well for a while, until they didn’t, and the family ended up living at Coalition for the Homeless. That was in 2005.
What happened next was devastating to Glen. The state removed the boys from his custody, deeming they had been left unsupervised. Though he disagreed, this dad was unfortunately not in a position to challenge what was thought best for his boys. “It was hard for me when I lost them, seeing everyone else with their kids.”
Now childless, Glen slept on the floor at the shelter’s Men’s Pavilion, spending his time helping out and “giving back” to those who were trying to help him. When their new men’s facility opened, he moved into the dorm. Through his case manager, he was evaluated for and began dealing with his psychological issues, anxiety and depression, and physical problems.
In June 2015, his Coalition case manager referred Glen to Pathlight HOME’s Restore Permanent Supportive Housing Program and “brought him over” to Maxwell Terrace Apartments. “I felt like I was at home. At first I felt scared…all those years in a shelter…I didn’t know anybody. But [Programs Manager] Miss Audrey said, ‘you’ll be okay. We’ll help you out.’”
“So I calmed down,” he remembers. “I stayed in the apartment and loved it, because it was something of my own. I don’t have to worry about getting up, getting in line for breakfast and dinner.” Having lived in a dorm environment in which he had to sign in and out, Glen proudly adds,” I have my own key. I can go and come anytime I want. I can do whatever I want now without signing in and out.”
Since his arrival, Glen has gratefully accepted his case manager’s assistance, participated in activities and supportive services, kept his medical appointments, filed for disability benefits, and appealed an initial denial. As of this writing, he is awaiting a decision, yet is positive as his doctors have attested to his disabilities.
Glen was recently approved for a federal housing voucher program for seniors (55+). He will be able to stay in his apartment until his current lease ends, and then plans to move elsewhere, within the requirements of the voucher. This is a big step forward for him and, though he’ll miss the Restore program activities, he’s grateful to still have the support of our Community Case Manager Syr.
“I think it was time for me to move forward,” he explains. “”I’ve been in Restore for 3 ½ years. I didn’t want to stay any longer than I needed to…I’ve got to take responsibility for myself now…Yes, I’ll miss the picnic and everything Restore has. Ms. Syr will be able to do some, but not all.”
Anticipating his disability benefits, Glen is excited to be able to “pay my share of the rent.” His new goals have brought on a fresh, positive energy. “I want a place with a stove in my own apartment,” he says. “I’m going to start saving for my first month’s rent, security deposit, furniture and supplies.”
He also has another, more heartfelt goal: to reconnect with his sons. “I would like to see them…see if they got married,” he says. ”I want to see them before I hit 60. Because of my illness, if something should happen, I want (people) to know who to contact.”
Glen believes that success is often defined by one’s start and what they’ve gone through in life, which we’ll call the “span of success.” He’s feeling very successful these days about his journey from a shelter, to a place of his own, and now “moving forward.” He wants homeless individuals in the community to know about the Restore Program and that, “If I succeeded in (Restore), they can do it. Success to me is (going) from sleeping on the floor to my own bed, key and mailbox. I can walk freely.”
He adds, “Do it the right way. Do what you need to do for you. I’ve succeeded so much. I have moved forward to a better self. I started to depend on myself, instead of others. If I can be independent, others can. You have a case manager to help. They can give you that step, but you need to use that stone.”
This is a story about two hardworking souls, paths that were destined to cross, raw eggs, a hot dog cart, and the Pathlight Kitchen Culinary Training Program!
Rosa was raised in Sanford, Florida, with a dream of becoming a journalist. Life, marriage, children, and divorce took her north to New York and Massachusetts; and her education led instead to the Information Technology field, primarily serving customers and solving problems. With a longtime goal of returning to the south, she moved back to Sanford in 2014. And though she still wanted to write, she returned to serving customers through IT, call center and accounting positions.
In August 2018, she was involved in a major accident on I-4. “It changed the course of my life. I couldn’t go back to work,” she says. She needed surgery, which the other driver’s insurance did not cover. “It left me hanging…trying to pick up the pieces…depending on unemployment.”
Kim hails from Cleveland, Ohio. He was a contractor, who “loved rehabbing houses” and is grateful that “God blessed me with transferable skills.” His path led to a number of cities. Following his brother to St. Louis and then San Antonio, he worked and learned in both cities. His dream was to be in Atlanta for the 1996 Summer Olympics. Not only did he get to Atlanta, but he stayed, got married, and opened a café!
Family responsibilities led Kim to close the café and move to Tennessee, where he became a diesel mechanic. When his marriage ended, his life made the circle back to Ohio and contracting. Employment with a large hotel chain, a transfer to Florida, and a Human Resources mix-up left Kim jobless in Orlando.
Thankfully, he was finally able to find a job that combined his food, beverage and construction talents. “Thank God for transferable skills,” he reiterates. He was able to move from cheap motels into a Sanford apartment…right next door to Rosa. After his dog Gigi barked “hello”; they began talking about business; and bonded over removing the “white stringy thing” in raw eggs. The rest, as they say, is history!
Fast-forward to Kim finding the Goodwill Job Connection Center, landing a maintenance position at a prep school, and then badly injuring himself on the job just a few days before Rosa’s August accident. Now living together, they found themselves in the midst of financial hardship and medical issues and wondered, “What can we do?”
That’s when Kim “saw the hot dog cart online…I thought this would be a great idea,” he says. Thinking about their situation, Rosa wasn’t so sure. “Why would we spend money to do this when we were in a bind?” Yet, she researched the concept and realized, “It’s not such a bad idea!” They bought the hot dog cart! What now?
The timing was perfect! They saw a flyer for the January 2019 Pathlight Kitchen Culinary Training Program and showed up on the first day of class to apply. They spent the next 12 weeks learning, cooking and earning the food safety handler and allergen certifications. They graduated in March.
“We got more than a plateful. It was a great course. Not to mention that all this was free. “Chef Esteban taught us the proper way to de-bone a chicken, filet a fish…what ingredients to put in first,” says a grateful Rosa. “He wasn’t just a talker. He was hands-on…the field trips, so you’ll have an understanding of what we’ll be doing before we get into the kitchen.”
“The Chef went above and beyond to make us knowledgeable ,” adds Kim. “Financial planning, assets, liabilities, plugging holes where you lose money. You name it, he went through it. He shared a lot of his own experience. We really did learn a lot. He gave a lot of extra tips to make sure we’re successful.”
“Pathlight has been a total blessing. 360 degrees to make sure we succeed, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be successful,” states Rosa. They are excited at the concept of developing their “signature sauce” that Chef says will make them “stand out above the others”; and Kim literally dreams about specialty hot dogs and sauces, awakening with creative ideas.
"Shannelle taught us a reminder…life skills. What hit me most was being consistent. And to write things down. (Then) you see it. If you write it down, most likely it’s going to happen,” Rosa says appreciatively.
This congenial couple has many tasks and much “writing down” ahead to accomplish their dream. They plan to earn Food Manager Certifications shortly and are embarking on a business plan. The cart must be inspected, licensed and situated by the City of Orlando; and the signature sauce and must be created! They appreciate the advice and assistance available to them. “The Chef said his door is always open,” says Kim, “and Miss Sharon from Goodwill will help with the business plan.”
Rosa and Kim must tackle their medical issues first, which gives them the needed planning time. “It’s not a rush thing,” they agree. “When it transpires, we’ll be ready. “It’s not going to be an ‘if,’ it’s going to be a ‘when.’”
And WHEN they start serving their signature recipes, we’ll be there to write the next chapter in their story!
Deborah doesn’t talk much about her early years as the third of six children in a two-parent Orlando home, but her pain and survival are apparent as she shares her story of growth into the woman she is today.
Now residing at Pathlight HOME’s affordable Maxwell Garden Apartments, Deborah’s history is one of formal education and hard work. She pursued her nursing degree while raising two daughters and, after working eight years in that field, returned to college to become a Behavioral Specialist. “I wanted to do something different,” she says about her next 15 years.
Her professional life of working with clients and their behavioral “triggers” ironically came to play out in her own life over the years. “I experienced drugs and alcohol and became homeless. It’s a domino effect; I’ve learned that.” In terms of the abuse she suffered as a child, she states, “I always thought it was my fault. That gave me my drive to want to do better for my children. I have no regrets because what happened to me as a child made me the woman I am today.”
When her child-rearing days ended, Deborah felt alone and remarried. Life unbelievably repeated itself when her husband was convicted of abusing her young grandchild. “I divorced him; but my family pulled away,” she says.
Deborah was still working hard in the behavioral health field. She owned a three-bedroom home and a car and things were going well. Her health, however, took a turn for the worse. Diagnosed with degenerative bone disease, she had to quit the job she loved and depend on disability income. “I couldn’t do the work anymore. I couldn’t perform the tactics needed to [subdue] clients. That was 15 years ago.
About that time, Deborah’s mother moved in, residing with her for the next seven years. This living situation rekindled vivid memories of Deborah’s childhood abuse at the hands of her father and the lack of support or from her mother, resulting in a diagnosis of PTSD.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” she said. “I got hit with PTSD. I started realizing she wasn’t there (for me) when I was a kid. Three months after they took him from the house (for child abuse), she let him back! My mother was a narcissist.”
Through therapy and PTSD medication, Deborah understood that her mother “brought on [my] triggers. I can’t do it anymore.” That realization and her worsening physical health, necessitating a wheelchair, led Deborah to place her mother with other family.
Deborah’s life became a perfect storm. Suffering mightily from her physical and mental disabilities, she gave up her house and car. “I lived place to place,” leaving her belongings in other people’s closets. “That’s when the identity theft started.” She became homeless on the streets for three months and suffered a mental breakdown. When she sought help from the Center for Independent Living, she learned about Maxwell Garden. She also discovered her identity had been stolen and her bank account drained of her disability benefits.
“I fell apart again and wound up at Lakeside (now Aspire Health Partners). I had a nervous breakdown but kept talking to Sandra (at Maxwell Garden), as did the Lakeside case managers.”
Thankfully, with help Deborah was able to get her money back and have her disability payments resumed. The hospital secured her money, since her identity was still compromised, and there was just enough in her account to move into Maxwell Garden. Her gratitude is boundless for those who listened, advised and assisted, led her to stable housing, and are there for her to this day.
Pathlight HOME’s Sandra Deiter, Gail Smith and Syr Rodriguez are three people she especially wants to thank. “God worked through Miss Sandra to help; and I love Miss Gail. They stepped right in and opened up the way. I’m so happy that Miss Syr is my case manager now. I feel I can go to her and talk about anything.”
After almost four years in her homey first floor efficiency, she reflects, “I never thought it (homelessness) would happen to me. Someone can come here and get on their feet. It made me feel good about myself. It’s here for the taking…if you want it.”
“I keep to myself a lot, but I have two people I associate with,” she shares. With their help getting to the store, her case manager and her wheelchair, she is happy. “I thank God for putting me here. I have everything I need at my fingertips. He put me right in the middle of the right place. I feel like there’s a supply of programs, a kitchen where I can cook a chicken or turkey, a laundromat. They feed us every year at Thanksgiving and Salvation Army comes with food every week.”
“This is a place that’s low income that can help me. This is my safe haven. This is my little corner of the earth.”
And Deborah has turned those words into beautiful deeds in front of her unit. Smiling at the amazing garden she began to plant a year after she moved in, she explains, “I wanted to see things grow. A person who believes in gardening believes in new beginnings.
“My childhood was fun, my middle age was darkness and I’m back to enjoying life,” says Lawrence, a resident of Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Terrace Apartments. A stroke, heart attack and diabetes survivor living on Social Security, he’s proud and grateful to be “clean from drugs for more than 10 years.”
Hailing from the Bronx, New York, Lawrence reminisces about his early years, during which he traveled with his parents and got into mischief with his brother. He says they were “bad kids, but not enough to get arrested.” When his dad moved out, his mother struggled to take care of them, as he and his brother went “from good to worse.”
His mother made it through those trying times by worrying about what she had to do to support them. Lawrence’s pride in her accomplishments comes through loud and clear. “She became very successful, retiring from three successive [management] jobs” in government, hospital and prison administration. Their close relationship “keeps him pushing” to this day, especially when she tells him, “You’ve always got to think positive.”
Lawrence’s father also had an effect on his life, in a different way. Accompanying his dad to unsavory places to “look out for him” as he abused heroin, Lawrence vowed he’d “never do it.” Yet, he started smoking weed with his brother and “got into stronger stuff” through peer pressure, in particular the use of crack cocaine. He smoked crack on and off for years: in both New York and Florida, when single or married; while bringing up children, and throughout most of his fulltime and labor pool jobs.
Having been in serious relationships with women who did not partake in drugs, he slowed down his consumption when he was with them. For example, when married with children and working for the City of New York, he lived the suburban life in a house in New Jersey. Though his wife ignored the drug use, eventually, “On [December] 27th she told me I had to leave…and she went back to her old boyfriend. I remember that date, the 27th.”
He was devastated; and the drug use got worse. He continuously fell asleep on the job and threatened his supervisor, leading to a stint in an inpatient clinic. “I dried out, but I didn’t dry out. I wasn’t ready.” After bunking in with his mom for a while, he moved to Florida and found a stable job at an assisted living facility. He got off drugs, though the friend with whom he lived was a heavy user. “Things were going good,” and he decided to move into his own place.
That was 25 years ago and, ironically, the place was Maxwell Terrace Apartments. “I found Maxwell Terrace Apartments over 20 years ago, when [founder] Rev. Maxwell was still alive.”
Unfortunately, Lawrence’s addiction reared its ugly head again and he lost his job, worked instead through staffing agencies, and moved on to other places to live. His “rock bottom” happened when, while carrying drugs, he was stopped and arrested by police.
“They took me to jail. I went into a program for six months; I wasn’t ready, so I stayed there for a year,” he says. “I felt so free; I thanked God. He told me it was time [to get off drugs].” That was in 2001.
Lawrence began working long hours for a transportation company. “I was a workaholic,” he recalls. That took its toll eight years ago, when he suffered a stroke. The resulting hospital stay, a turbulent relationship, and his arrest for violating a restraining order when they broke up led him to “get hooked on energy drinks.”
That monster drink addiction resulted in diabetes; and adding insult to injury, Lawrence recently suffered a heart attack. His health conditions have left him unable to work, dependent on SSI and food stamps, and grateful for donated food items from his church.
Four months ago, Lawrence moved back into affordable housing at Maxwell Terrace. “I made a complete circle,” he says as he muses about why he came back. “I feel good; I can do things that I always wanted to do. I’m enjoying myself, because I’m [now] living here clean.”
No matter his rocky past, Lawrence knows he’s fortunate to have survived and to have had his mother’s lifelong help and encouragement. “The great thing is I’m still here. It feels good to be clean. My mom is very proud of me.”
He, too, is proud of himself as well as his oldest daughter. “I love my daughter. She just finished college. Her graduation is in April,” an event he and his mother are proudly attending together.
Lawrence’s experience is testament to the fact that, through determination and a supportive environment, changed lives are possible. His bottom line? “You’ve always got to think positive!”