Joshua never let autism limit him.
But from age 9, he knew he was different. That’s the year doctors placed him at the high-functioning end of the spectrum.
Joshua, now 43, had a hard time in school. The written word confused him, he was prone to seizures and the abuse he received from his father created in him an angry disposition.
“I always got in fights in school,” he said. “I was a violent kid because of how my dad treated me growing up.”
His father fought in the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983 and came back a changed man. Likely suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), he would often fly into fits of rage and hit young Joshua.
“I was around 11 when he started up on me,” Joshua said. “But I’m here today and I’m ready to make that extra stretch and do what it takes. I’m stronger, and it’s given me more compassion for people.”
A change of scenery
Fearing for their safety, Joshua’s mother took the kids and left Kansas to start fresh in Colorado. The two — mother and son — were always close and went through hard times that galvanized the tie between them.
“Me and my mother bonded a lot more than I did with my dad,” he said. “My mom and I had a better relationship than anyone in our family,”
Joshua’s life changed when his mother remarried. His step-dad took the role his father abandoned, teaching Joshua about construction and how to be a man of integrity.
“My stepdad came around and married my mom, and he really taught me and my sister a lot,” Joshua said. “He taught me stuff that I never even thought was possible for me to learn.”
Joshua lived with his mother and step-dad well into adulthood and moved with them to Pueblo. For a while, he did well and held down a series of steady jobs. But when his mother died of cancer in 2008, his life spiraled.
“She’s the reason I am who I am and have it in me to go somewhere and do something,” he said. “My goal is to do outstanding things in the future and make her proud.”
Filled with fresh pain, Joshua found it hard to move forward. He stayed drunk and high to deal with childhood trauma and the loss of his mother. Later, he turned to meth to ease his mind. Without the support — and safety net — of his mom, he became homeless.
“I used to smoke pounds of hash and got high everyday, just to be able to cope and not have to deal with my feelings and everything going on,” Joshua said. “It was making everything worse.”
In 2015, he moved to Colorado Springs to start fresh and ended up at Springs Rescue Mission. He was ready to get his life back, and was willing to do what it takes. After living in the men’s shelter for a year, Joshua moved into Mission Inn 2 in October — ending nearly a decade of homelessness.
[Mission Inn 2 is a supportive housing complex operated by Springs Rescue Mission that houses eight men who have experienced chronic homelessness and are of a particularly vulnerable population.]
He now participates in work engagement — washing dishes in the morning and cleaning the resource center in the afternoon — and attends vocational rehabilitation classes through the Pikes Peak Workforce Center.
“The reason I work at the Mission is to help people get more comfortable with their living situation,” Joshua said. “I like to help keep the environment clean so they know they’re safe and to help build trust. That’s why I like working here.”
Joshua is living in a sober environment, surrounded by friends who encourage him. He said learning new, healthy ways to cope with life has been a blessing that is allowing him to move forward in life.
“I don’t want to do any of that [drugs and alcohol] anymore,” he said. “I want to do this, because this is what’s going to keep me off the streets. That would just leave me dead.”
Joshua dreams of one day living in his own apartment and likes the idea of working as a janitor or dish washer in a nursing home. Despite the difficulties he’s experienced, Joshua said the hard times and his faith in God have taught him compassion for others — especially the elderly.
“I see the Bible as a tool to teach me how to be compassionate,” Joshua said. “I think we’re supposed to think with our heart and not our head. There’s no reason to be embarrassed about that – about being compassionate for people. I think that’s one of the ways that we can get out of homelessness.”
Today he is thankful for life, for shelter and for sobriety. And he’s still focused on making his mother proud.
“If I look at how far I’ve come, and if I look at the things I did, it makes it to where I can think it’s possible to go forward and do good things in the future,” Joshua said. “That’s my story.”
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