Growing up, Mark didn’t have a lot, but he always had enough. Christmas time was spent with his family—his father, mother, three brothers, and many relatives. He always had plenty to eat, and there was always enough for seconds. Whenever his socks had holes in them, his parents would simply sew them up. He’d feel the tiny sewn bumps when he walked, but he got used to them.
Despite having a happy childhood, when Mark moved out on his own, his ultimate goal was to never live with holes in his socks again.
He fulfilled that goal for the first part of his adulthood. However, when financial stress resulted in an end to his marriage, he turned to drinking, which turned into 10 years of alcohol addiction, depression and separation from his only son.
Mark spent two and a half of those years on the streets, going from shelter to shelter and spending his days looking for food and clothing. One of his lowest points was the night he was assaulted—kicked by a steel toe boot above his right eye. All of his belongings were stolen, and he had to walk, bleeding, to the hospital.
“I was possibly going to die out there on the streets,” he said. “I didn’t want the last people who knew me in life to hear about me in the newspaper.”
Mark’s idea of Christmas became grim and warped from spending it alone on the streets. “Sitting on a bus bench or a park bench by yourself and hearing church bells in the background is devastating,” he said, “it really is.”
During the holidays, and every day, the hardest memories for Mark were being helplessly withdrawn from this family.
“My mother, I came up to her apartment and rang the doorbell, and she wouldn’t answer the door,” he said. “I saw the shadows through the peephole, so I knew somebody was home. None of my relatives wanted to talk to me. At that point, I knew I needed a change. I was back to having holes in my socks.”
Mark’s younger brother helped him get connected with Denver Rescue Mission, and in November 2018, he joined the New Life Program at The Crossing.
Living at The Crossing for the past year has meant the world to Mark. He doesn’t have to worry about someone stealing his belongings. He has a warm bed to come home to after working long shifts at Walmart. He knows there’s a warehouse of donated clothing available to him. And he always has plenty to eat. There’s always enough for seconds.
“If you’re still hungry, you can get more,” he said. “There’s always plenty of food, and that was the way I’d grown up.”
Last year, Mark once again spent Christmas without his three brothers. But this time, he was surrounded by more than 100 brothers in Christ. Each year, the Mission hosts an event called Bless Our Brothers, a festive Christmas dinner for New Life Program participants. Mark said he’ll never forget the delicious steak dinner that was served that night. “It pretty much brought tears to my eyes that they cared that much to serve us all that,” he said.
“It felt great that there were people out there who really cared—who knew our histories and knew our stories— and took us in with open arms.”
The Mission helped restore Mark’s sentiment about Christmas, from memories of pain and loneliness to memories of joy and camaraderie. “Having Christmas here just restrengthened my thoughts of the good Christmases I had and what still could be—family, friends and just being at ease and being happy,” he said.
Every year at the Bless Our Brothers event, participants receive a gift—typically something they wrote on their wish lists. When Mark opened his gift, he got exactly what he wanted: 12 new pairs of plain white tube socks.
In October, Mark graduated from the New Life Program. He has reconnected with his family and friends, and this year he plans to cook and host his mother, brothers and other relatives for a festive Christmas dinner in his new apartment.