The faces of guests who stand in line for breakfast at Denver Rescue Mission show many mixed emotions. Some are disheartened to find themselves standing in line for food. Others are tired and angry from having slept on the streets in the cold. Yet, André regularly comes in with a smile on his face.
He is kind when he talks with staff members—always happy to oblige their requests. While others sit silently alone eating their food, André is seated with a companion engaged in conversation.
He sees me coming toward him in the Lawrence Street Community Center’s café. He respectfully excuses himself and says goodbye to his friend. We begin chatting and André tells me he is overjoyed that he received extra yogurt at breakfast. André loves yogurt and he began telling me the story of an incident involving Kefir, a yogurt-like drink. One day, he stored a bottle in his bag to drink later, only to have it spill all over his important documents. For many experiencing homelessness, the bags they carry contain their entire lives. All of their most important possessions reside securely on their shoulders, and André’s bag had been covered in a thick mess of Kefir. He laughs it off. Of course, he kept a couple of yogurts in his bag from breakfast this morning.
“I never learn,” he chuckles with a huge grin.
As we cross North Broadway toward our destination, I move quickly. The traffic light is about to change and it is chilly outside. André walks tenderly, almost like there are nails under his feet. Nearly five years ago, André spent six months at Saint Joseph Hospital due to frostbite. In the end, he lost parts of both of his feet. Still, he pushes on ahead.
“If I were to let that bother me,” André said, “can you imagine? I would not have a life.”
This outlook on life permeates André’s thinking. Some say to look at the silver lining. André lives in the silver lining. Comfortably seated at our destination to drink a cup of coffee and continue our chat, André looks around at the people at the surrounding tables. He was not always homeless.
André grew up in Havana, Cuba, with a loving family. In addition to his caring parents, André had aunts who treated him as their own son. He stays in regular contact with his sister. She worries about him, as does the rest of his family. They tell him to go and get a place of his own, but this hasn’t been easy for André.
Up until 2014, André had never experienced homelessness. He spent the early part of his life traveling the country. In 2014, he lived in Pennsylvania, where he rented a place with a friend. At that time, he lost his job and struggled to pay rent. Although he lived with his friend, there was no room for missing payments. So, he quickly sought refuge at a Pennsylvania shelter. After leaving Pennsylvania, André ended up in Denver where he lived at a home for people with physical disabilities or mental illness for two years. André intended to only stay five months and surprised himself by staying much longer. After those two years, André found himself in need of Denver Rescue Mission’s services. Homelessness can be a cycle.
André has many things that others experiencing homelessness don’t. He has a family who cares for him when others feel alone in the world. Most of all, he has an unwavering optimism about life. Certainly, that is why he continues to smile every day. In a world where possessions equal status, André carries all he owns on his shoulders. Still, he sees the good in his life through all the hardships he’s experienced and he has hope for the future.
André’s goal is to have a place of his own one day. Perhaps with an espresso maker and a refrigerator to keep his Kefir away from his most important documents.
Help People Like André Today
Every bed we provide is more than just a bed. It’s the opportunity for someone to find safety, hope and true, life-changing empowerment.
We urgently need 200 new beds at our Lawrence Street Shelter in order to better meet the needs of our emergency shelter guests. But to get these new beds, we really need your help.
Our goal is to raise $70,000 to purchase these new beds before the summer. Please join our More Than a Bed campaign in one of these great ways:
Three Ways You Can Help
André’s story written by: Jacob Cain, Assistant Food Manager