The other day when I was at the YMCA working out, I overheard a couple of retirees talking about how their volunteering efforts did not seem to be making much of a difference — how they had basically stopped trying.
Both of their overall views of the homeless were that they "seemed to just want to be that way."
I won't argue that there are those that may fit that description, but by and large the majority of the homeless decidedly do not want to be homeless, I assure you. I'm speaking as someone who was homeless.
I would also fervently like to state that I believe the mental health crisis in this country is the root cause of not only homelessness, but also the displays of homegrown terrorism that have become all too familiar in our news cycle.
You don't have to be outwardly unstable to be suffering.
In three short years, my wife and I lost a life of wealth that had taken us more than 20 years to scrape, claw and fight our way toward accumulating. We had cars, toys, a 7,000-square-foot home on a golf course in Texas — then we made some mistakes.
We were both functioning alcoholics, but my wife's alcoholism had reached an advanced stage. After floundering for a year or so and exhausting any resources we had, she suggested that we move to Colorado Springs. While still stinging from our fall, and my own alcoholism now in full swing, we were soon evicted from where we were staying here.
And on that same day, we admitted my wife to Memorial Hospital, where they told me she had two months to live.
She lasted maybe 30 days.
I did the hospice care for her at the Aztec Motel on East Platte Avenue. She wanted no one to touch her but me.
At this point, I'm compartmentalizing everything and now part of me, part of my brain, has checked out. But I remember running from the Aztec with two of my three sons in tow, to the only person I had any relation to: my wife's sister in Tennessee.
There, I picked up a DUI and ended up in jail, where the Aryan Brotherhood was in firm control. I think they were related to half the guards, who brought goodies in the middle of the night. There wasn't anything you couldn't get for a price.
Fifty two days later, with the help of two of the most beautiful people on earth — with whom my middle son had gone to live — I took a Greyhound bus back to Colorado Springs. At this point I had met God and asked him if he would take over my life.
I took a route probably a lot of people are familiar with: the hospital, Cedar Springs, a sober home, fellowship. I was fueled by newfound sobriety, faith, and a belief that God did not put me on this earth to be a doormat. He blessed me with a capable mind and body. And if my aim was true, and I was square with everyone around me, good things would happen.
During my recovery, I probably repeated this Martin Luther King Jr. quote to myself a thousand times: "If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward."
To everyone in the struggle, there is a force for good in this world. I choose to call it God. You can see it everywhere in Colorado Springs, but you can't see it standing still.
Bury the pride. Pride will kill, and if it is standing between you and a better life, it's already halfway there.
I am probably happier than I have been in many years now, and I owe it not just to faith, but the many wonderful people I met in recovery and continue to meet.
To the men I overheard at the YMCA: Your volunteering does matter. I'm living proof.
— James Case
James Case, whose first business was a restaurant in Texas, has spent more than two decades cooking. He's now the head chef at a local fine dining restaurant. He's proud to be the father of three wonderful boys.