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Previously homeless people use their experience to help others off the streets

Posted at 6:12 PM, Oct 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-16 18:12:14-04

Sean Wilcox has been living in transitional housing for three months.

“It’s a place to get me back on track… get me off the streets,” Wilcox said.

He’s a part of a program that connects people experiencing homelessness with solutions that best fit their unique situation, like working a job or taking classes.

Wilcox says he’s ready for a change in his life after spending six years on and off the streets.

“It’s a rough life. Especially when you’re on drugs,” Wilcox said.

He had lost all hope. Wilcox said he tried to take his life multiple times. But now, he’s working to build a better life for himself.

“I never thought five, ten years ago, that I would have been homeless.”

According to a report recently released by the White House, over half a million people go homeless on a single night in the U.S.

“Homelessness is a serious problem, and it doesn’t seem to be going away,” Justin Boles with Citygate Network said.

Boles is the Vice President of Citygate Network . It’s the oldest and largest network of faith-based missions across the country. He says the network has noticed homelessness has been on the rise.

“Our member ministries have been increasing their capacity year after year. Yet, every night they’re filled at capacity,” Boles said.

That’s why it’s becoming increasingly important to find creative solutions to get people off the streets.

Jordan Smith is the Peer Navigator Program Manager for Denver Rescue Mission. He’s in the process of hiring three peer navigators for this emergency homeless shelter in Denver.

“Peer navigators are people who have experienced homelessness, and now they’re in their own housing. And they help people who are still experiencing homelessness,” Smith said.

The idea is for peer navigators to form relationships with people who are currently homeless, so they can be connected to resources.

“Helping them with getting an id, helping them with getting their birth certificate, getting a social security card, connecting them with mental health services and social workers,” Smith said.

By using someone who has been able to navigate out of homelessness, Smith hopes people experiencing homelessness now will feel empowered to get help.

“Out of that relationship, we believe people will be more motivated, be more encouraged, and be more healthy in order to pursue those resources and those very practical avenues and steps that you have to take to get off the street," Smith said.

Many factors like addiction, mental illness and lack of affordable housing can lead to homelessness. However, Boles says lack of relationships is probably one of the biggest factors which may be overlooked.

“People need people. We need relationships to help us stay strong, and keep us on the right path,” Boles said.

Wlicox became homeless after losing his mother. He says he owes it to the loving community he’s a part of now that’s helping him to stay on track.

“But most of all it’s the man upstairs, ya know. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here, and that’s a fact,” Wilcox said.

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If you’d like to reach out to the journalist for this story, email elizabeth.ruiz@scripps.com