Stephen learned at a young age the feelings of hurt, distrust and anger, all of which shaped his turbulent life. These emotions still forefront in his psyche as he wonders how and why he’s lasted almost six decades, one also sees a sense of pride, determination, and caring peek through. “I’ve been a survivor all my life,” he says. “If you don’t have survival skills, you’re not going to make it!”
Growing up in Indiana, Stephen remembers that it was “always me and my mom.” That was until she met a man and turned her time and attention to him and his children, leaving her own son to fend for himself, in a house with no food, at the tender age of 12. Competing fruitlessly for his mother’s attention, Stephen started “doing the wrong things and hanging around with the wrong people.” He and his fast-developing temper only succeeded in getting himself into trouble with the law.
“My childhood was basically spent behind bars,” he recalls. “…Jail, boys’ school, group homes.” His mother’s response to his behavior was to say “goodbye” and make him a ward of the court. He lived in an institutional environment until he was 18 and his “time was up.” Interestingly, the boys looked up to him and the school offered him a job. His reaction was to discourage their admiration, refuse the job offer and become rebellious once again.
Twenty years old and determined to get his life together, he found his calling…the carnival. He started working and traveling all over the nation and the world with a carnival, an occupation he’s had on and off for 38 years. He has also built office furniture, maintained lawns and worked in construction, yet always went back to the itinerant life. And though the job gave him the alone time this self-described “loner” liked, it incongruously paved the way for his addiction to drugs in order “to fit in.” Drugs, in turn, were responsible for more problems with the law, prison time, and “a lot of things I don’t remember” throughout his adult life.
When he quit the carnival due to physical pain, drugs also led him to live on the streets, go to shelters only when he wanted to “get cleaned up,” and finally “start to get myself together” at Coalition for the Homeless, where he began attending to his medical issues. In February 2018, the Coalition referred him to Pathlight HOME’s Restore Permanent Supportive Housing Program at Maxwell Terrace Apartments. At long last, Stephen found himself in his own efficiency and able to trust someone enough to focus on the medical treatment and support services he needed to live a different kind of life.
“I’m tired of doing without,” he says. “It’s time for me to change myself. I’ve had a very rough life. I’m kind of tired of it. I’m getting medical treatment…it’s given me a sense of accomplishment. Things are starting to look up…to move forward.”
Stephen is grateful to his Case Manager, Lourdes, especially for her help in applying for disability benefits. As one who has predominantly paid his own way in life, he can’t wait to do so again. “It would make me feel better because…I’m accomplishing something for myself. When you’re used to doing things on your own, it makes me feel like I’m taking advantage. It bothers me when I have to ask.”
Even though his temper still gets the best of him at times, Stephen is working hard to come out on top. “If it wasn’t for being here, I probably would have stopped going to the doctor,” he shares. “I have a sense of security. I don’t have to look over my shoulder; I’m more relaxed and don’t have to be on my guard. I’m thankful that I’m taking advantage.”
Last but not least is an unfamiliar sense of caring that’s crept into his heart. One might say the tiny black and white kitty clinging to Stephen’s chest and aptly named “Little Bit” has made the biggest difference of all. “He’s like a kid to me. He’s my buddy and I’m his.” That sentiment plus the other positives in his life today, we foresee “More than a Little Bit of Hope” for Stephen’s future!