The day Paul Gabrielson moved into his own apartment, the first address to his name in years, he was glowing.
Within a few hours, the 50-year-old had put on music and decorated the space with a few spare belongings, recalls Richard Johnson, a relative who helped Gabrielson move.
"He was like a little kid," Johnson says. "He was so excited about this brand new home, his new start on life."
But two days after Gabrielson — who had been chronically homeless since at least 2013, couchsurfing and frequenting the Springs Rescue Mission when he wasn't camping outside — gained the keys to his own apartment, tragedy struck.
While the coroner's report isn't finalized, word is that an undiagnosed condition, possibly related to Gabrielson's alcoholism, took his life.
"We’ve had a lot of memorial services, but none as big as this," one volunteer remarked to Gabrielson's sister in passing.
It's not surprising, given the impression Gabrielson clearly left on the homeless outreach community. He received services, but gave what he could himself, too — like the Broncos cap he gave to Pastor Eric Sandras, who led the memorial service, and a beanie sported by Kristy Milligan, CEO of Westside Cares, as she delivered opening remarks. Gabrielson often helped serve meals at Sandras' The Sanctuary Church, Sandras says. And those he met on the streets recalled his habit of lending a helping hand when he could.
"Paul had a really big heart and he inspired a lot of people, whether to become Christian or be thankful for what you have," says Janeice Queen, Gabrielson's sister. "... He didn’t have a lot, but he did have a big heart, and we’re going to miss him."
"I don’t understand why it takes some people and doesn’t take others, the alcohol," she says.
"I’m a wuss on the streets. I hate the cold," Gabrielson says. "I don’t want to be out there for anything. I just sustained some medical issues and a [traumatic brain injury] and I just had some problems that unfortunately I found myself on the streets, and you know, it can happen to anybody... Sometimes I get in dire straits. I just, I’ve gone through this before and I’ve learned how to survive and take care of myself and what have you, but not everybody knows how to do that. And I’m just trying to do my part to do whatever I can to help anybody that needs the help utilize the resources that are available."
Johnson hopes Gabrielson's journey out of homelessness will inspire other patrons of Westside Cares, even if it did end in tragedy.
"Folks working here can say, 'Remember Paul? How he made changes in his life? There's hope.'"
Francie Crary, a volunteer who helped Gabrielson with his housing assessment, says she remembers a visible change in his appearance the last time she saw him at Westside Cares. It was a few days before he would receive the keys to his apartment.
"He was floating," Crary says. "I mean, he was so full of light anyway, but he was floating. He was absolutely floating."
Milligan takes comfort in one outtake from the interview that she still recalls.
"I asked him what gave him hope, and he said God gave him hope," Milligan says. "Which makes me feel better about losing him... He believed that he was wrapped up in God’s arms, and that’s what I would wish for someone at their last moment."