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“What’s my favorite thing in my new house? It’s me!”

Brad isn’t what you typically think of when you picture the homeless. He’s never even spent a night sleeping on the ground or a bench outside.

That doesn’t mean he didn’t spend his time in the trenches.

Eight years ago Brad got divorced, and then soon after lost his house and everything he owned in a fire. Next he lost his job as a home health aide. Within a year Brad went from having a steady job with a wife and a house to losing everything, and turned to drugs and alcohol to dull the pain he was going through.

Fortunately he still had friends and family in the city, and was able to stay with people off and on while he struggled with homelessness and living in shelters.

“I’m really thankful I stayed connected with my family. A lot of my friends who are still homeless only know people going through the same stuff. They don’t have anyone else to go to, and that’s a hurtful feeling.”

While he was homeless, Brad learned the hard way where real help was available, and where it was just wishful thinking. With some programs, he would have to fight through crowds just to get a meal or attention from a case manager.

Finding A Community

That’s why when Brad learned about Thrive DC, he was excited to find a place that could help him in lots of ways and give him personal attention.

“There are more resources on this side of town than in Southeast where the [801 East men’s] shelter is. At Thrive DC, this program is a lot – there’s the substance abuse group, job help, computer lab…getting the help you need is different here.”

They also say ‘Good morning!’ when you walk in the door. That’s big. Having someone tell you good morning makes a big difference. Most places don’t do that for us.”

The substance abuse program was where Brad really started turning his life around. Dealing with addiction is a daily struggle, and he appreciated that Thrive DC’s program gave him options and didn’t just tell him what to do. He appreciated that someone like Gabriel, Thrive DC’s Substance Abuse Counselor, was on his side no matter what and offered him a safe place where he could get away from his addiction.

“Drugs and alcohol are the worst parts of living in a shelter. There are dealers and people using drugs right in front of the door so you can’t avoid it, coming or going.

A lot of people can’t resist that temptation, and that’s what keeps them addicted. Then they come in to the shelter drunk or high and that’s what starts the stealing.”

Thrive DC offered Brad a place to escape during the day from the drugs and alcohol around him, and the substance abuse program became a supportive environment to get him back on his feet. About 9 months after he started coming to Thrive DC he finally got into housing.

Being Home

“Being able to cook and clean for myself is the best thing about being in a home. I’m a neat freak! I love being able to choose what I cook and keeping my space tidy just the way I like it.”

Right now, Brad is focused on getting his life back together. Now that he has a house, the next thing is getting re-certified as a home health aide and paying his own way. After relying on his friends and family for so long, he’s looking forward to being independent again.

“If I could say one thing to all the people who support Thrive DC, I would say ‘thank you.’ You really don’t know how much you are helping. You don’t see the progress, but if you help one of us you help all of us. Everyone is looking for a miracle, but they don’t come around every day.”

“But I got mine!”

How You Can Help

It took Brad nine months with Thrive DC to get sober and get out of homelessness. For many clients it takes even longer than that.

Change takes time.

To support our clients and give them the time it takes to change, consider joining our Next Step Team as a monthly donor. Not only will your donations be easy and automatic, but the steady gift each month will give our clients a firm foundation to build from.

Join our team, and help clients like Brad take their next step out of homelessness.

“The most important thing is that I wanted change.”

Cornell is 57 and lucky to be alive.

He got into drugs by smoking weed when he was just 13 years old; as he got older he moved onto harder things. His parents both did drugs, not that Cornell uses that as an excuse; but he recognizes that it was his environment that helped shape who he is.

That’s why he’s determined to change his environment now.

Cornell has been coming to Thrive DC since it opened in Columbia Heights, almost 10 years ago. He’s been homeless for even longer than that, bouncing between family members, shelters, and sleeping outside during the summer.

He wanted to live with family members, but didn’t for two reasons: he didn’t want to expose his nieces and nephews to his lifestyle, and his family wouldn’t put up with his drugs and joblessness.

“They didn’t put me in this position; I put myself in this position. I respect what they’re doing. I don’t want to be a burden, and I’m trying to change that.”

But things didn’t start changing until he joined Thrive DC’s Substance Abuse group.

There he met Gabriel Fabre, the Substance Abuse Counselor. Gabriel accepted Cornell for who he was without judgment, but never stopped encouraging him to be better. And eventually, it was that combination of acceptance and encouragement that got through to him.

However, it still took months for Cornell to be ready for sobriety; before this he had lived in a fog for years, and was nervous about what it would mean to make a clean break from everything. Cornell had a long relationship with drugs and couldn’t envision life without them.

In fact, the first time Thrive DC offered him a chance at rehab he turned it down.

Finally, though, he was just too tired.

“I’d sit in the park and watch life go by. When I finally made the choice to go to rehab I remember thinking:

 ‘I’m too old for this. Do I want to be this way until I die?’”

The second time Cornell had the chance for rehab he was bound and determined to make it happen. He called the facility for three days straight to make sure he could get in as quickly as possible.

“I thought: ‘I’m helping myself and people are helping me. This is an opportunity I just can’t pass up.’”

Cornell graduated from his drug program January 4th, just in time for the New Year. For the first time in a long time he can think clearly. And since he’s been out, Cornell has been going to every meeting he can find, at Thrive and outside Thrive, to keep himself focused and away from the life he’s known for 44 years.

“I thank God for allowing me to reach 57. I’m still young enough for a second chance, to get a job and put a roof over my head.”

Want to learn more about how we offer a second chance after addiction? Click here.

Our Substance Abuse Program is available in both English and Spanish. Along with educational presentations about the effects of substance abuse, it also offers a safe place for people with addiction to talk about their struggles with a supportive community.

Angel had second thoughts the first time he walked into Thrive DC.

“Initially, I thought Thrive DC was too rough for me. I didn’t feel like someone who belonged here. But then a staff member came over to welcome me and gave me a sandwich. He actually ended up giving me three sandwiches so I would be OK after I left.

“That sandwich meant everything to me. I had no money and no place to go. That sandwich said ‘don’t give up, stay strong.’”

Angel needed help finding employment. He was living in a friend’s closet paying $200/month just to have someplace to sleep at night. But Thrive DC was able help him out with a job right away. Less than a week after Angel came looking for help he was set up with a job at a local grocery store.

“At first it was very good, easy work with a lot of hours. Then they started giving me less, first 30, then 20 hours. And you can’t live on that.”

Angel respectfully let Thrive DC know that he was going to quit his job, and went to a friend with a painting company for work. When there was work to do it was a good arrangement; but every day was a risk that he might not get a call, or the job wouldn’t be big enough to pay his bills.

Eventually he ran out of options and came back to Thrive DC.

This time things were different. Angel came looking for help right when a position was opening up at the International Monetary Fund for cleaning work. The Thrive DC staff was impressed with Angel’s drive and demeanor, and immediately recommended him for the position. After a formal interview process and background check Angel was hired!

“I made so many mistakes, so many. But now I have this chance and am going to do the right thing.”

Angel’s just started his new job and will be making $15/hr with benefits. He plans to stay in the small one-bedroom apartment he’s been renting now for a year and save up money. Angel has a plan, and never wants to worry about becoming homeless ever again.

“I am grateful to Thrive DC so much. The staff here is very open with me, very clear about what I need to do to get a job. I am so thankful to everyone I worked with, and I would tell anyone who needs help to come here, to people who really care about you and can help you.”

Let’s be honest: at one time or another you’ve thought these things. And that's OK! If you’ve met our clients, then you probably wouldn’t know much about them. Totally expected!

So today we’re going to go through our most embarrassing questions and give you the real, honest truth :)

Are homeless people lazy?

Sometimes. Sometimes not! Many times, laziness and unemployment are mistaken for each other. Most of the time, though, unemployment comes from personal demons like substance abuse or depression. When you’re homeless, things can appear hopeless. It’s understandable that when your life is crashing down it’s hard to bounce back.

One example: we have a client who lost his wife in tragic circumstances. It sent him spiraling into depression and substance abuse, and he ended up on the streets after giving up on life. Finally, he came to us and we were able to help him put his life back together with housing, a full-time job, and supportive community.

So we absolutely have some clients who have “given up,” which can look like laziness. It’s part of our mission to give them hope and confidence again. As their attitudes improve, so can their drive and determination.

Not all clients are in the same position. For example, we also have clients working the night shift, or juggling a part-time job and an internship, or people who want to work but can’t because they don’t have their GED. There are a lot of different people we serve, and a lot of different situations.

For clients who would like to broaden their skillsets and eventually find a job, we offer employment assistance workshops and the Real Opps Training Program.

There are also times we see people lying on benches or sleeping on the sidewalk and think "laziness." But honestly, while shelters have a bed to sleep in (if you can get in one) there can often be very little sleeping going on. Things are noisy, other residents can be dangerous, and there is a constant worry about your belongings being stolen.

And if you're not sleeping at night, sleep has to catch up with you somewhere.

Are homeless people uneducated?

Fact: 30% of our clients have not graduated from high school. But! 35% have at least some college experience, and we’ve had great conversations with clients who have either Master’s degrees or PhDs.

Education is not a predictor for homelessness. We once had a teacher who became homeless, but were able to help him out with emergency services and a new job. He bounced back and is now making over $60,000 in DC.

Many of our clients do, however, struggle with computer literacy. That’s why we have an open computer lab from 10 AM - 5 PM Monday through Friday and volunteers to help clients navigate unfamiliar technology.

Are homeless people dirty?

Some of our clients are very dirty. The rules to using showers at shelters or day programs vary from place to place. We had one client who had a skin condition and needed a shower so that she could apply her medication. But no one would let her because of her condition, that is until she found us!

Thrive DC is just one of five places in the city that offers both free showers and free laundry services. Over 8,000 homeless individuals have to compete for these limited resources and that makes it hard to stay clean.

Some of our clients do arrive early every day just to make sure they can take a shower. Some you would never know are homeless by the way they look. But whether someone is homeless and dirty is more a reflection of their circumstances and/or mental health than it is their general cleanliness.

Are homeless people mentally ill?

Great question! Mental health is a big concern for our clients. Many clients have diagnoses and many are dealing with depression whether it's diagnosed or not.

46% of our clients have needed mental health services in the past. 37% currently have a mental health diagnosis. Mental health is a significant part of our work at Thrive DC, but it’s not the only aspect, and for most people, not even the most important.

Many homeless people suffer from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or post-traumatic stress disorder. However, regardless of a client’s mental health state, we believe in treating everyone with equal dignity and respect. Our main goal is to make sure that all clients feel welcomed and safe.

For those clients struggling with internal issues, we offer therapy programs like art & music therapy for all clients. We can also help some clients pay for prescription medication.  No matter what, we encourage all of our clients on medication to follow their doctor’s instructions, even if they feel like they don’t need it.

Are homeless people addicted to drugs or alcohol?

Some members of our community are addicted to drugs and alcohol, without question. That’s why we have a substance abuse counselor leading weekly support groups in both English and Spanish. For some clients, rehab will have to be part of their path back to a normal life.

But, in the city, only 30% of the homeless population have a substance abuse problem. It’s a significant part of our population, but it does not represent the majority of our clients or the problems that they face.

What's the take home message?

Everyone is different! Our clients are dealing with significant issues. Some people will look like confirmation of stereotypes and some won’t. But it will be hard to know for yourself until you meet them.

Also, can homeless people be lazy, uneducated, dirty, mentally ill, and addicted? Sure. But so can people who aren't homeless. These things aren't unique to homelessness and our clients but can be found in all walks of life.

The best way to work past our stereotypes and misconceptions is to meet face to face with people who are homeless. Come volunteer with us, or have a conversation with someone you meet on the street.

If this was good information for you, and you want more, consider inviting a member of Thrive DC to come talk to your community. Our staff is available for presentations at churches, “lunch-and-learns” at companies, and neighborhood meetings. We would be happy to talk about homelessness in general and put your experience into context.

If you’re interested in a presentation, email our Community Relations Manager at greg@thrivedc.org to find out more information!

60 days ago. That’s when Vincent’s life changed.

“I felt like killing myself. I don’t want to feel that way no more.”

Vincent struggled his whole life with an addiction to drugs and alcohol. He would get a job and lose it. Live with a friend and lose that too when the drugs and money ran out. For the last 10 years he’s been homeless, living where he can to get by.

Through it all, Thrive DC was there with him.

“I’ve been coming to St. Stephen’s since I was 5 years old in day care, and I’m still coming here 40 years later. But Thrive DC has been a true blessing. It’s helping me so much.”

Right Person, Right Time

For the last couple of years, Vincent has been coming to Thrive DC every day. He’s talked to people about his addiction and been to rehab programs, but nothing worked. He never really believed he could get off drugs for good.

But when he met Gabriel, the new Substance Abuse Counselor at Thrive DC, that changed.

“Gabriel looked like an angel. He said ‘I’m going to help you. Just come to group. Just come.’”

“He showed me a better way. I thought I was going to die.”

After a couple of weeks Gabriel was able to convince Vincent to enter a 30 day treatment center. But he wasn’t quite ready.

“I told Gabriel I needed to get my clothes, my clothes. I didn’t want to lose them. He said that he would hold onto them for me. But I was so high, I walked out of the church to get my clothes and fell down the steps. I messed my hand up pretty badly and didn’t come back.”

Success Happens When You're Ready

Vincent later got arrested for drinking, and realized he had reached a “Do or Die” moment. When he was let out he immediately came back to Thrive DC. And Gabriel was waiting for him. Together they signed Vincent up for a 30 day treatment center and this time it stuck.

Vincent recently completed his program and couldn’t be happier. Gabriel has helped him get into 6-month transitional housing near Thrive DC, so for the first time in 10 years Vincent has a safe place to sleep at night and a support group just a few blocks away.

“Now that I’m clean, the plan is to work with Thrive DC to get a job, save my money, and get a place of my own. Then maybe I can help people like I was helped. Maybe be a counselor like Gabriel.”

“I hurt a lot of people with my addiction. I lost my family, I lost my daughter, but I’m going to get all of that back.”

Want To Help Vincent?

Right now our community is working with Vincent to help him stay sober and find employment. We have six months until his time in transitional housing is up to get him back on his feet and stable.

You can be a part of his journey by donating $25 right now to support Vincent and clients like him. Or, if you want to provide consistent, steady support from homeless to housed, consider joining our Next Step Team as a monthly donor.

“I’d never actually completed anything in my life before.”

The deck was stacked against Roxann. A high school dropout, she had turned to drugs and had spent time in prison. She found herself in transitional housing with no job – or prospects for a job. She wanted to get her life back on track, but the odds weren’t in her favor.

Fortunately, Roxann’s case manager knew about Thrive DC and suggested that she check out our Real Opportunity culinary arts training program. The thought of an intensive six-month program was daunting though: “I’d never actually completed anything in my life before" said Roxann.

It wasn’t easy for Roxann, beginning with creating her resume. “I never learned how to use a computer. It was so frustrating.” But Thrive DC’s staff helped her every step of the way. Learning skills in our kitchen was easier for Roxann, and at times more meaningful.

When the Real Opportunity participants helped serve the breakfast they’d just prepared, Roxann would look at who she was serving and think, “It wasn’t long ago that that was me.”

Finally, Roxann’s externship at Open City made her feel good about getting up and going to work. It gave her a sense of purpose, especially since she hadn’t held a job in over 15 years. The Open City staff welcomed her with open arms. She felt supported. And when Roxann, who is also a breast cancer survivor, needed time off for doctors appointments, Open City’s Chef Carlos made sure she could take the time.

Roxann has been drug free for three years and has high hopes for the future. When asked at her Real Opportunity graduation ceremony what was next for her, she took the question quite literally and said, “I’m leaving here to go enroll in night school to finish high school.” After that, Roxann plans to give back, to help those who are homeless and struggling just like she was.

1525 Newton St NW
Washington, DC 20010
(202) 737-9311

Client Hours:
Monday - Thursday
10:00 AM - 12:00 PM | 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM

Staff Hours: 
Monday – Friday
8:30 AM – 5:00 PM
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