Greg was sober and clean and had a job, but was still sleeping under a bridge – until ...

February 20, 2021:

Today I interviewed a man who needs housing. I never know what to expect when I do these interviews, but its always interesting!
This particular gentleman has a full time job, which he faithfully shows up to and enjoys. Various extenuating circumstances have landed him homeless. He has been abstinent for five years and remains so, even through the last few years of homelessness.
Bloody amazing. He sleeps under a bridge. Works everyday. Has remained abstinent.
I am astonished at some people’s resilience. How do you maintain sobriety, full time work, while returning to sleep under a bridge? Kept awake at night by rats running by the edges of your damp sleeping bag? To say he inspired me today is a complete understatement. I can only aspire to that kind of strength.
It is the work of God through some local Jesus followers that will enable this man to be housed this coming Monday. I so look forward to seeing him drop off his things in his new, safe, clean and affordable apartment. This is resurrection stuff; through resurrection people.

In my work I deal with many people who are in challenging situations. It might be chronic drug use, mental health problems, homelessness or other forms of poverty. As should be expected, most people are in rough shape when I encounter them and often, due to such extreme challenges, find themselves frustrate and angry.

Maybe that is why meeting Greg was different.

“So you work all day, then sleep under the bridge at night?” I said.

Greg was referred to me by a housing advocate in the city. The advocate asked me to have a conversation with him to see if he may be a good fit for our transitional housing. Not much detail was offered but I agreed. When I called Greg he was at work. This was my first surprise. Most of the folks I encounter, due to not having a place to live, struggle to find work – or even the motivation to work. I know I would struggle!

Greg was working at an auto body shop as a labourer. As we chatted he told me how much he liked working and I could feel him smiling on the other end of the line. He proceeded to tell me that at present he was working during the day and travelling to sleep under a bridge at night.

“So you work all day, then sleep under the bridge at night?” I said.

“Yes,” he replied. I was a bit surprised as this is not common!

I manage the housing for a non-denominational mission that is supported by hundreds of churches, individuals and donors that has been around for more than 70 years. We also do alcohol and drug treatment, and feed around 700 people per day in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

We decided to give offer Greg an apartment in our transitional housing.

February 23, 2021:

A day of hope.
Last week I put out on social media about a friend who worked a job during the day and returned to sleep under a bridge at night. Today he moved into an apartment. A gift from a donor meant that he has everything he needs to start his new life. There may have been a few tears shed today – both his and mine!
Thank God for the Christian ministry, and the generous individuals, that made this possible.
Thank God for this man who is an incredible testimony of humility and resilience.

A few days after he moved in, I was able to hear more of Greg story.

Greg was raised in a fairly normal Canadian, blue collar family. Hs father was a firefighter and his mother worked at a greeting card store, Hallmark.

Greg was a challenging child due to mental health challenges. At one point he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. This, and other mental issues, meant that his behaviour was not always compliant with peaceful family or school life. He did not finish high-school.

By the time I met Greg he had been ten years without stable housing.

When Greg was 18 he was put in a group home with other folks struggling with similar issues. This provided him with some independence, but also made for challenges as these environments were not always conducive to peaceful living! Greg’s mother stayed in close contact with him and made sure he always had what was needed, whether that was clothing, money, cigarettes or his favourite foods.

Greg volunteered at a local food bank for many years while he got used to living independently. Sadly, while he was making strides forward in these areas, he was also becoming a regular user of drugs and alcohol. He began a viscous and seemingly unstoppable pattern of drug use and the lifestyle that accompanied such things.

This lead, after ten years of relative stability in group homes, to experiencing homelessness. While he would be housed at various points in his journey over the next number of years, by the time I met Greg he had been ten years without stable housing.

Hearing this story from Greg was surprising. The man who sat in front of me as he told it seemed to still have some hope, which is often not present for people in Greg’s situation.

He shared with me that, although he had been homeless for the last ten years off and on, he had been free from drug and alcohol use for over five years. I asked him how he managed to do that while living in such instability. Most people will never get sober without significant intervention and stable living situation – but Greg was somehow clean.

He told me that everything changed for him when his mother died.

She was 70, too young in his opinion to die and I could see by his tear-filled eyes as he recounted the story, that it was deeply painful for him. Greg said that his mother’s wish for him, what she hoped for above all else, was that he would get sober. She found it hard to watch her son destroying himself.

As Greg processed her death he said he spoke to her and said, “Mom, it’s time I give you your wish.” He then joined an Alcoholics Anonymous group and has been sober ever since.

It is astonishing to me that this guy with so many challenges – mental, physical, economic etc – managed to live homeless for five years and remain sober. To me, Greg is a miracle. A bright spot in a world of so much bad news. I am so glad that he is now housed and beginning to recover stability.

He was absolutely amazed when I showed him his room. He looked at the thermostat and said, “So I can turn the temperature up and down on my own? I can make it as hot or cold as I want it to be?”

“Yes, of course, it is your apartment,” I replied. This little comment helped me realise how dire his situation was. He hadn’t had control of the temperature of his living environment for over ten years.

Yet despite it all, Greg has held within himself an incredible resilience and the ability to keep a vow to his mother, whom he loved.

Meeting Greg has humbled me and shown me the potential of people to overcome incredible challenges.