On paper, Jim had done everything right. He went to college, got a well-paying job and cared for his parents when they got ill.
Ten years ago, he couldn’t have imagined ending up at Springs Rescue Mission.
Jim studied accounting at Colorado University in Denver, graduating and joining the workforce as a corporate tax manager. He worked for years in Houston, making good money at energy and oil companies. But as his parents’ health began to decline, Jim had a decision to make — and he chose family. Leaving his career in Houston behind, he returned to his hometown of Northglenn to care for his mom and dad in their last days. After their deaths, Jim was left more or less alone and struggled to rejoin the workforce. In the years that followed, he gradually slid into homelessness.
Jim’s one-year anniversary in the men’s shelter came June 4. It was a tough day — a tough week, month and year, for that matter — but he’s filled with gratitude and humility. He’s committed to Work Engagement and finds joy in doing laundry at the Resource Center. He says giving others the dignity of wearing clean clothes helps him, and that it brings him dignity.
We spoke with Jim recently about life, loss and being grateful despite disappointment.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your background?
I grew up in Northglenn, Colorado — born and raised. I worked up in Denver for a while, went to CU Denver and studied accounting. I came down to the Springs for work for a while and ended up in Houston, where I became a corporate tax manager and corporate tax director for various energy companies — the oil companies are big business down there. It was really good money. It was a good life.
What did you do in your free time – when you weren’t working?
I actually volunteered in shelters and facilities for women and their children who were trying to escape bad situations. … It’s insidious, and I saw firsthand that these men chisel away at these women. … And I did the normal guy things, right. Poker, fantasy football, golf. I was making a really, really good salary and had been to the box seats at every arena in Houston. It was a really great life.
How did you end up back in Colorado?
Well, as life would have it, my brother passed away in 2004 … and my folks were getting up in age. … In 2005, my dad began to deteriorate, so I came back to Colorado shortly before he passed away in 2011. The company I was working for (telecommuting) at the time said, “if you want to keep your job, we need you to come back down here [to Houston].” So I made a decision, and I thought I’d be able to just pick up where I left off in Denver. Famous last words.
And then you took care of your mother?
Yeah. After my father passed away, my mother kind of gave herself permission to start falling apart. She suffered from dementia and from macular degeneration. … Imagine waking up and discovering that you’re blind. Just the panic and the fear — the anguish. That’s what she went through every day (sometimes multiple times a day). So, we ended up putting her in a facility and I was spending $10,000 a month for her care. It was hard on multiple levels: emotionally, mentally, financially. Then she also passed away in 2017.
Were you working during this time?
I tried to find temporary employment but caring for my mother was a full-time job in its own rite.
It wasn’t immediate— it was gradual. I was crashing for a while with a friend up in Denver, trying to find employment. But that was never going to be a permanent situation. I called 2-1-1 and said, “hey, I’m about to become homeless — surely there’s something you can do.” And I remember this checklist they had: Are you a veteran? Do you have a drug addiction? Are you on probation? It was pretty much everything I’m not.
Did you end up on the streets, or did you come straight to the Mission?
I’m grateful that I never ended up on the streets. … I came here on June 4 of last year — just had my one-year anniversary at SRM. … I’m really grateful. I look back and, even at my age of 53, I was such a snot when I got here. I thought I had done all the right things in life and that I shouldn’t be here. I went to college, I had a good career, I came back to take care of my parents. So why am I here? And that’s a really bad attitude to have. Maybe part of this adventure was to learn a bit of gratitude and humility. I really can’t express enough how grateful I am for SRM.
How did it feel to become homeless, and how does it feel now?
When I came in here, I had people tell me I’d be out of in a couple of weeks. I had some resentment, and I’d ask myself, what am I doing here? But I’m actually more grateful today, and will be everyday thereafter, than I was the day I showed up here. I more and more realize what SRM has done for me and continues to for me. There are good people here. … I ask myself why I’m still here, while I see people move in and move out of here. I get resentful. But my mom used to have a saying: “Man plans, and God laughs.” There’s a reason why I’m here, and I have to believe that.
Can you tell me about your job search?
I thought I could just use my experience to get back into accounting, but it’s not that easy. … Finding work has been hard. I restarted my job search and then all this COVID-19 stuff started. Being able to work and being able to give back is important to me, not just from a quid pro quo perspective but from a human dignity perspective. … I know that just getting a job won’t fix everything, but it does fix a lot. … I’ve struggled like the dickens. At this point, I’ve applied for over 100 positions. But it’s God’s clock, not mine.
But you’ve been in work engagement since you got here. How’s that?
Part of it is being able to give back, because it makes me feel like I’m not just taking. … People have to do a few primary things here: eat, sleep, shower and do laundry. And I have the good fortune of helping in the laundry. And I strike up conversations with many of these people when no one else did. They went overlooked. I learned their names. … I don’t mean to overstate it — I know we’re just washing britches — but I believe that everything you do in life can be a ministry, if that’s your intention. … I think giving someone clean clothes to wear and learning their names, that gives them dignity. And that gives me dignity.
Work seems very important to you. What would you say work engagement brings to your life?
Yes. There is a sense of sadness about this situation, but we find joy. I find joy next door [in the laundry room]. Even when I was in the Isolation Shelter [for potentially having COVID-19], I was helping people get their stimulus checks. I found joy in that. Life can be a ministry. And that’s why I strongly recommend work engagement.
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