I Was Homeless — But The Best Gift I Was Given Wasn't My Home

Here's the truth of it.

I know what it's like to sleep under a bridge. For the majority of my adult life, I was homeless. Sometimes it's hard for people to understand how and why someone ends up in that situation, and it's natural to make assumptions. The reality is that homelessness is a cycle that's difficult to escape, and every individual circumstance has different contributing factors. My personal struggle began when my divorce, economic downfall and the housing market crash all collided.

When I was homeless, I spent most days just trying to find the next meal and a safe place to sleep. Some nights, sleeping behind a Dumpster was my best option, and sometimes I simply stayed awake because it was safer.

After years of this pattern, I was ready to give up. I had lost hope that life could get better. But what happened next was that instead of me finding hope, it found me—and its name was Jay.

Jay was part of a homeless outreach program at Catholic Charities Fort Worth (CCFW) called SOS. I truly don't know where I'd be if CCFW hadn't reached out to me. For the first time in years, I knew that someone had my back. CCFW stayed with me every step of the way, and because of the help I received from SOS and other local organizations, I was able to get on my feet and move into my own apartment.

For me, volunteering and giving back to the community that helped me is a natural fit because I know the difference these programs can make in the lives of others. One of the most rewarding ways I have been able to give back is right in my backyard — a soccer field for my refugee neighbors.

The author at the soccer field.
The author at the soccer field.

My apartment complex is also the home to many refugees, another group CCFW serves. Getting to know my refugee neighbors has truly been a humbling and meaningful experience. Interacting with people who have been through such traumatic experiences, yet remain so positive, has blessed my life in countless ways. When I had the opportunity to help build a soccer field for the refugee children, I was happy to volunteer. The children's joy as they play on their new field is a beautiful example of what's possible when strangers come together for a common goal.

In less than two years, I've gone from having nowhere to lay my head down at night to being able to serve and help others. And as grateful as I am to have a home, it's not the reason I give back or even the most valuable asset I've been given. The most profound and life-altering gift I received was hope, and the true value of hope is hard to fully grasp until you know what it's like to lose it.

The author at the soccer field.
The author at the soccer field.

Working with people and hearing their stories reminds me that we're all connected in ways we'd never imagine. I've experienced the power of compassion and have firsthand knowledge that acts of service can change lives. I used to be trapped in a cycle of homelessness that left me empty, but now I'm part of a cycle of hope that fulfills me beyond measure.

This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering And Giving Back © 2015 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.