By Allen Nohre, Terros Four days a week at 7:00 a.m., 30 to 35 men and women, who have slept on the streets or in homeless shelters, line up outside...
By Allen Nohre, Terros
Four days a week at 7:00 a.m., 30 to 35 men and women, who have slept on the streets or in homeless shelters, line up outside the Terros Together Programs in downtown Phoenix. They are just a few of the estimated 14,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in Phoenix and surrounding communities according to the Department of Economic Security.
They arrive to participate in the Morning Program, a one-hour risk reduction presentation and group discussion, followed by a hearty breakfast. Last year, over 250 homeless people took part in the program and 7,500 breakfasts were served.
Reaching Out and Connecting
The Terros Together Program has been providing preventative services for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STI) in Maricopa County for 25 years. Services include education, outreach and testing for people who are at risk for disease or currently infected with HIV and/or syphilis. The Morning Program recognizes that the homeless are vulnerable to many dangers, including exposure to HIV and other STIs; this is especially so if they are abusing alcohol or drugs.
The presentation and group discussion in the Morning Program is led by a Terros program specialist. Topics include information about communicable diseases, how to protect against infection, testing, addiction, community resources and many other health and risk issues the homeless are facing.
The program has provided hope and connection for participants. James and Johnny are examples of participants in the Morning Program who have been inspired to change their lives and end their homelessness.
James Had a Good Job
James came to the Morning Program nearly three years ago at a time of deep despair in his life. He was well employed as a driver of an eighteen wheel tanker truck. He transferred his job from San Francisco to Phoenix so he and his wife could be closer to her family. Because of the transfer, he had less seniority and when the recession hit, he lost his job. The loss of his job was a big blow emotionally, as well as economically. While still coping with being unemployed, James’s wife died suddenly from a brain aneurism. The two enormous losses were simply too much for him to handle and he couldn’t find the ability to cope.
James said, “I couldn’t deal with it, and I started drinking and doing drugs. Soon, I was living on the streets. All I had was a bicycle and a cart. I was hungry and began going to the Terros Morning Program.”
The group discussions, which everyone must attend before getting breakfast, began to give James a sense of hope and direction. “Finally, after attending many sessions and enjoying breakfasts, I decided I was done with drinking, drugs and being homeless.” James took many steps to get his life in order. Today, he is employed at the Together Program as an HIV/STI prevention specialist. Brin Scott, Together Program Director, says, “James has changed his life, he is an outstanding employee, and because of his own experience, he is able to inspire change in the lives of others.”
Johnny: Homeless for 15 Years, Now a Volunteer
Johnny is another man who has greatly benefited from the Terros Morning Program. When interviewed, he spoke freely about his fifteen homeless years and especially about his new life off the streets.
Johnny grew up in Texas and was working in a ship yard in San Diego when he slipped into a homeless life of living on the streets. For six years he was homeless in San Diego and then moved to Phoenix where he lived another nine years on downtown streets near Central Avenue.
I asked him how he stopped being homeless. He said, “I simply got tired of hanging out, drinking and living without a home. I attended the Terros Morning Program and liked what it did for me and other homeless people. Then I decided to help out by becoming a volunteer in the program.” It has been four years since Johnny decided to stop drinking, stop being homeless and become a volunteer.
The most important part of Johnny’s life is his on-going connection with the Terros Morning Program. Four days a week he arrives as a volunteer by 6:00 a.m. and spends the morning with duties like making coffee, helping prepare breakfast for 30 or more hungry people, washing trays and helping cleanup after the people who used to be his street buddies. Now Johnny is not only off the streets and living in an apartment, he belongs to an important community where he is making a valuable contribution to others.
Ronnie Wilborns, Program Coordinator, works closely with Johnny and applauds him for his important contribution to the program. “Johnny is an invaluable volunteer. He is my right hand and does whatever needs to be done. He is also an example for others that it is possible to get off the streets and create a new life. He is one of the best volunteers I have ever had.”
Most people living on the dangerous streets of Phoenix or in a temporary shelter want to end their homelessness and find a better life. The Terros Morning Program is one of many agencies and services helping the homeless end their homelessness by “inspiring change for life.” Visit www.terros.org