Philip Pierce, former homeless guest of Gospel Rescue Mission, wins AZCEH Outstanding Achievement in Overcoming Homelessness Award
Philip Pierce Testimony that he wrote once he graduated from the GRM Men's Center Shelter Program in June of 2010:
I lasted in my apartment until that morning on July 1st when I packed my clothes in a duffel bag, gave everything I couldn’t carry to my neighbors, and turned my keys in to the apartment manager. I was scared. I had $8 in my pocket. I hadn’t been able to find a job and had run out of money. I was alone and depressed.
A friend of mine told me the Gospel Rescue Mission could help, so at 3pm in the afternoon that bright, sunny day, I boarded a city bus filled with strangers and made my way through the City of Tucson to the Gospel Rescue Mission Men’s Center.
Gospel Rescue Mission was founded in 1953 by a man who worked at the railroad yard. He found a need helping those who were lost and couldn’t help themselves. As much as I hate to admit it, I was lost that day I walked through the Mission doors. Many men will face a time in their life when they can’t do it on their own, when they need help. Gospel Rescue Mission has stood the test of time, to be that place of refuge, and I feel very strongly that the Mission will be serving men and changing lives for the better, for many more years to come.
The intake process proceeded shortly after I sat down, and because I had never been there before, I was called to the front of the line, and greeted by a caseworker. He was very friendly, and asked me about the situation. He seemed sympathetic, and took notes while I answered his questions. He explained that there was a program available for me and it would take willingness on my part. I would have to follow some rules. Looking back now I can see the importance of that interview. Someone took the time to hear my story. Someone cared enough to tell me that everything would be ok. I needed to hear that. Everything was not ok that day. I was homeless. I didn’t have anywhere to live. I didn’t have anyone to turn to. I didn’t have any money. He didn’t care about those things. That man listened to my story and gave me a glimmer of hope. He told me that I qualified for a 90-day program and asked me to sign some paperwork. He recommended that I speak with the morning supervisor after breakfast. I would be assigned a work duty. He answered all my questions thoroughly and thoughtfully.
Shortly after my intake interview I waited in line for dinner. They were serving fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw and apple pie for dessert. I didn’t think I was hungry, but ate everything on my tray. The meal was good and made my stomach feel better. Then I attended a chapel service that night and sang some hymns that I used to sing when I was a child. I still remembered the words to Amazing Grace. Five men accepted Jesus as their Savior. I felt safe.
Shortly after Chapel, they called us by name to receive a mat with clean sheets, a pillow and a blanket. We laid our mats on the floor in the Chapel and made them using the clean linens they had given us. I had so many questions. What was I going to do? What was going to happen to me? I reviewed the day’s events. I was in a place where people actually seemed to care about me. The meal I had eaten that night was better than I had eaten in weeks. I was sleeping on clean sheets in a safe place. In 2010, the Mission provided 46,182 beds for men who needed shelter and fed 138,481 meals to men who needed something to eat. I wasn’t alone anymore. I was surrounded by other men who were experiencing some of the same things I was. As soon as my head hit the pillow and the lights went out, I was fast asleep.
The lights came on at 5 o’clock the next morning. At first I didn’t know where I was. We all got up and were directed to put our mats back where we got them from the previous evening. Blankets were put in one pile, sheets in another. The mats were stacked up neatly. Everything would be washed and folded. There was order and everyone seemed to work together without being told what to do. They were serving french toast and sausage with orange juice, and it tasted as good as it smelled. The kitchen workers were friendly and even asked me my name as I went through the line.
After breakfast I made my way to the front office to speak with the morning supervisor. I was assigned to work with the maintenance man for the day. I spent the morning doing landscape maintenance outside the Mission. A group of four of us swept the curbs and ran power blowers. It was very fulfilling to be a part of a crew that was working together and getting the job done. As soon as one area was done, we moved to the next. Lunch was at noon and I don’t remember what was served, but I know it was good! I remember feeling purpose that day. I had been depressed for so long that I forgot what it was like to feel good about myself.
I talked with the maintenance man and he asked me a lot of questions. He told me about a program that the Mission offered for substance abuse and asked me if I had a problem. That first day I denied that I had a problem, but deep down in my heart I knew that I did. It took me a couple of days for to start meeting the guys who stayed there. I needed to talk to the pastor if it was something I was interested in, so I made an appointment to see him. Nothing ever happened really fast. There was no yelling and screaming to get the job done. People were actually happy. There was no shortage of help. There was on shortage of work to be done. Food needed to be prepared, dishes needed to be washed, trucks needed to be unloaded, and laundry needed to be washed. There was something I felt that I had never felt before. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I wanted some. I knew it was the right thing to do, so I stayed.
As the days passed, I finally met with the senior pastor. I was intimidated by him. I had a reason to be. I felt like a failure. Something was wrong with me. I was living in a homeless shelter. Ironically, he didn’t see things the same way I did. We hit it off immediately. He didn’t focus on my failures. He asked me simple questions, like how many brothers and sisters I had, and where did I grow up? Where had I been working? What kind of hobbies did I have? He also smiled a lot. I was not used to that. I was used to someone telling me that I’ll never amount to anything. He told me that God had a purpose and a plan for my life. I believed him. I still believe him.
He asked me if I thought I had an issue with substance abuse. I wasn’t afraid to tell him I thought I did. I told him that I smoked pot since 6th grade, and that I liked to drink regularly. I just told him the truth and he didn’t get mad. He didn’t ask me to leave. As a matter of fact he asked me to stay. He prayed with me. He gave me hope. He explained to me how the long-term program worked, what it would take on my part, and didn’t ask me for a yes or no answer. He just asked me to think about it. He said we could talk later. I am not used to that. I am not used to thinking about things before I do them. This was new to me. We live in a society that seems to want everything right now... pressure, pushy salesman, fast food, act now!!! This wasn’t like that.
By now I’ve had the chance to talk to the guys who are in the program. I want what they are getting. Many of them are just like me. They are talented men who have given up, fallen by the wayside, listened to the lies for too long. Most have grown up in dysfunctional families where love was never given freely. More often than not at least one parent was an alcoholic or drug addict, and in many cases, such as mine, many grew up with just one parent. And the amazing thing is that the staff at the Mission seems to understand that. They have compassion. They aren’t just there for the paycheck. They are there to help the men. Most of the staff has been there and they know what it is like. They’ve been in our shoes.
However, some men don’t have issues with substance abuse, or aren’t ready to admit that they do. There are programs at the Mission that help these men to find work outside the Mission, to save their money, and in turn help them to get on their feet again. These men save enough money to pay a deposit on an apartment and pay the first and last month’s rent, as well as starting up utilities. Typically $2,500.00 is enough to do this.
The Mission will help them to work towards acquiring their GED. There are tutors that come in to help teach these men who are in need of improving areas such as math, reading, and writing. The Mission will help them to get important documents, such as their DD214, birth certificate, high school transcripts, or even their state ID. For some men, their issue is getting SSDI, or even Social Security benefits. There are case managers that help the men do these things. Some are paid staff and some come in to volunteer their time. The Mission has a lawyer who comes in twice a month and provides free counseling for those with legal issues. On any given day, the Men’s Center is a plethora of activity and all of this is to help on average at least 150 men per day. It is an amazing thing to witness.
I learned quickly that I was essentially earning my keep, while at the same time gaining strength and self-confidence, as well as working my way back towards self-sufficiency and becoming a productive member of society again. I was able to complete the long-term substance abuse program successfully. I have learned to deal with issues from my past."