A Flicker of Light
Hope has the power to change lives. For Ricky, it was always there. He just needed someone to show him where to look.
The Downtown Business Improvement District (DBID) Outreach team started working with Ricky in the spring of 2014. He had just returned to the streets after spending the winter rotating between hypothermia shelters and a family member’s home. Stephanie, an Outreach Specialist, saw Ricky most regularly. Some days she would exchange greetings as Ricky sat panhandling on the sidewalk, the tall downtown buildings around him casting deep shadows over his face. Other times, she would crouch down in the dim light of early morning to check on Ricky, barely hearing his muffled voice from beneath the blanket covering his head. Over the course of several weeks, their interactions became routine.
When they spoke of his needs, Ricky was quick to say he wanted housing, but lack of income and issues from his past made achieving this goal feel impossible. Stephanie made attempts to connect Ricky with local resources to help him obtain income and ultimately housing. Sometimes he followed through on her referrals, but more often he dismissed them, citing a distrust for "the system". He told Stephanie that she couldn't understand the reality of his situation. Stephanie never disputed Ricky’s assertion, but told him she wanted to learn and understand, to see the world through his eyes.
After that, Ricky began showing up at the outreach office requesting help. He trusted Stephanie and slowly opened up about his chronic health issues, his separation from his wife, his job loss, and being estranged from his only son. Other visits he would only ask for clothing or bus fare. One day Ricky sat down and shared that he felt so hopeless he was thinking of ending his life. As their eyes met, Stephanie could see the incredible burden that Ricky had been carrying. His eyelids were heavy with the weight of trauma from years on the street. But behind all of this, there was a beautiful flicker of light, a sense of unrelenting hope that had sustained Ricky and could not be extinguished.
Ricky told Stephanie that she was "wasting her time" and that he was a "lost cause". However, Stephanie disagreed. She knew Ricky still had hope, deep inside of him; and it wasn't just in his eyes. It was in his actions. Stephanie reminded him of the day where, of his own volition, Ricky woke up determined to enter a detox program and came to Stephanie for help. There was the day Stephanie encountered Ricky wearing his new work uniform, after he set out, on his own, to get a job selling newspapers. There were the weeks that Stephanie and Ricky worked together, through seemingly endless setbacks, to secure his documentation so he could be ready to move into an apartment; Ricky kept showing up, ready to do whatever it took. Even now, instead of actually ending his life, Ricky was sitting here, talking to her about how he felt. Hope was still there. He just needed to see himself through Stephanie's eyes.
After a few more weeks of working to obtain the documents that Ricky needed for his apartment, they had a breakthrough. Everything in order, Stephanie was finally able to take Ricky to look at apartments and he fell in love with the first unit they viewed. Ricky immediately began visualizing where he’d place his furniture, where he’d entertain his siblings when they came over for dinner, and where he hoped his son would stay after they reconnected.
Weeks later, with keys in his pocket and spirits high, Ricky began crossing a busy intersection. Stephanie was a few steps behind and stopped when she saw cars coming. Already halfway across the street, Ricky came back and gently took her arm. After making it safely to the other side, Stephanie looked at Ricky and asked why, did he decide to come back? He looked at Stephanie as though the answer was obvious and replied, “Come on now, you didn’t leave and give up on me, why would I give up on you?” Stephanie smiled at Ricky and saw the familiar flicker of light in his eyes and replied, “No, Ricky, you never gave up on yourself.”
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