Kim Brown walked in to the conference room at Open Door with a smile and asked how he could help me. We shook hands and talked about life. His mostly, but plenty of what he shared could apply to people everywhere. Kim was born into a mixed race, affluent home in Philadelphia. Financially he had everything he wanted and needed but his busy parents were never around or available. It would take him years to face the lack of belonging and sense of abandonment. Dabbling in drugs led him to run away from home at 16 and sent him down a spiral from which he would spend decades trying to recover.
Drugs, depression, abandonment, and anger framed Kim’s story for half his life. He credits Don Bellemore (now Director of Operations at Open Door Ministries) for helping him face down his drugs and alcohol dependency twenty years ago at ADS. That led him to a stay at Open Door’s Arthur Cassell Transition House and the daily fight to stay clean. But a sense of belonging eluded him. “Home” was an endless progression of couches in the homes of friends and acquaintances, homes where drugs and alcohol were often prevalent. And every day he wondered if someone would kick him out or if he would succumb to the call of the drugs. For a year he had an apartment but lost it when he offered a place to stay to a nephew who brought his drug dealing habit with him. He was in and out of programs where he felt people were happy to outline a long-term plan but couldn’t get him to that all-important first base. “I knew I was a better person than that. I never lost sight of that person but I just couldn’t hold on to him.”
When he got the 2012 call that he had been accepted into Open Door’s transitional housing program he was contemplating a very different plan. He believed that robbing a nearby bank would send him to federal penitentiary where he felt his treatment would be better than state prison. He believed that if he didn’t take a gun, he could be out in 7 years. Those seven years would give him food, warmth and the opportunity for education and training. This is where case manager Verlinda Martinez entered Kim’s life. “Every time I called Ms. Martinez she was there, waiting in the car during appointments, planning my next step.” When she found housing for Kim he didn’t check the mail for six months. “I didn’t think the mailbox was mine.” Since then she has helped him find care for his medical and emotional needs. Receiving medication for his high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes offered him a new lease on life. Doctors are also helping him fight the long-term effects of depression, dependency and his sense of abandonment from childhood. “It takes every ounce of courage to walk this road. I wake up every day thanking God for another chance.….It’s alright to be me. I had to learn that.”
“It’s a fight out there. When you’re homeless you almost become an animal just to survive. Open Door Ministries took the animal out of me.” He shared his sense of hope and his belief that with the help of Ms. Martinez and others good things will continue to happen. “It doesn’t matter how dark life is. If you see the smallest bit of light, you have hope.”
(Sandra Funk is a supporter of Open Door Ministries and currently serves as Chair of the Board of Directors.)