In 2015 I went to Washington DC with several Housing First clients to attend the annual National Alliance to End Homelessness conference. Jedidiah Popp, one of the clients, and I went to the Hill to meet with Vermont’s representatives where Jed shared his story of struggling with addiction and homelessness.
What impressed me most about Jed then, as well as now, is his authenticity, sincerity, and commitment to doing whatever he can to help others who have experienced or who are experiencing the same struggles he has overcome. And on top of that, Jed is literally a ray of sunshine. His smiles easily, warmly and often. Given all he has been through in his short lifetime, that smile is such a testament to his shining, resilient spirit.
A few weeks ago, Jed spoke at our Annual Breakfast Fundraiser in front of more than 200 people. Below is an excerpt of his speech that garnered a standing ovation:
My time spent being homeless was exhausting. I was constantly emotionally and physically drained. I developed blisters on the soles of my feet that didn’t heal seem to heal. It was very painful.
The community helped me out wherever and whenever they could. I was given a sleeping bag, pillow and a mat and I found shelter in an open corridor in a shopping center. Through the window from where I slept was a Sleepy’s Mattress store filled with large, warm, comfortable beds. I would stare at those mattresses as I tried to fall asleep on the cold, wet pavement and think of the things in my life that brought me to that point. I’d think of friends whose trust took many years to gain and develop and then seemed to take just days to lose, along with their friendship. I’d think of the items that had great sentimental value of mine that I left behind and that I’d never see again. Night after night these thoughts filled my head.
I tried to think of positive things and to be grateful that I was still alive, but even those thoughts couldn’t keep the tears away. The months that followed were by far, the most challenging points of my life.
When I first walked into the Pathways Vermont office, I immediately noticed I was in a place where I wasn’t being judged and I could just be myself. I was in a place where people cared and I wasn’t just another person on a long waiting list for housing and support. They were here to help me and that help was immediate.
Soon after, we found sustainable housing for myself. This, was the turning point of my recovery and overall life. No words can describe how I felt that day when I signed my lease. It felt like the sun had opened up down on me, on a cold rainy day and filled every pore of my body with warmth and sunshine. It was a feeling I hadn’t felt since I was a kid. It was the feeling of hope.
Having spent the past two years living in insufficient housing and homelessness, the feeling of those first couple months in my new apartment was very foreign to me. The Pathways staff did an excellent job at making this transition go more smoothly for me. I was giving the basic housing necessities such as cookware, plates and utensils. This made it possible for me to have a simple cup of coffee. And let me tell you, that first cup of coffee I made was probably the most fulfilling cup I’ve ever had. I made a pancake breakfast every Sunday and spent quality time cooking myself great meals. This made it possible for me to start making healthy decisions that led me to a healthy lifestyle. But, by far the most memorable moments I had during that transition were the first few nights I slept in my own bed. No words can explain how it felt, to lay down in a safe and secure place, with my head on a soft pillow. Pathways supplied me with items that made daily living easier, but it wasn’t the items themselves that were so important…. It was the sense of home that those items created for me.
In the following months, I learned more about the Pathways Vermont Housing First program and was introduced to more staff members. During that time, I was in early recovery and was trying to cope with all those emotions I had stuffed deep inside me, during those years of my active addiction. What Pathways did for me, was that they gave me a safe place in the community where I felt a sense of belonging…. through the caring, love and support they provided for me.
My case manager taught me how to develop and use interpersonal relationship skills that I still use to this day. That relationship helped take some of that loneliness away and helped me see that I was cared for. The support from the Pathways psychiatrist gave me another outlet where I could talked about the things I was going through, that were too painful to share with anyone else. The support from my Pathways team as a was, and still is, one of the most meaningful periods in my life. They always encouraged me to take part in my own treatment and they helped me find the strengths inside me that I had no idea ever existed.
With all the tools, skills, and courage Pathways Vermont helped me develop, I have built myself a very happy, satisfying and rewarding life. I have made it through the challenges of early recovery and I’m currently going on year five of sobriety. I live independently and am an active member of the Brattleboro community. The support I received from Pathways helped me see how much one person helping another person out can really change the path of a person’s life. That’s why I do the work that I do now. Being a case manager at a local mental health agency, gives me the opportunity to influence others, as Pathways influenced me. I see how important it is to empower others and help them gain a sense of hope, in moments of despair.
Helping others helps me sustain that sense of purpose Pathways Vermont originally helped me find years ago. It helps me see that there’s a place for me in this community. It’s because of that, that I say I love the life I live. I’m grateful for each and every moment. Not a day goes by, where I don’t think of how Pathways helped me overcome my greatest challenges, catapulting me into a life I never thought could exist for myself. I’m grateful that they strengthened my connections in this community and helped me to form such wonderful, lasting relationships. For many years, I couldn’t say that I was grateful to be alive, but today I can.
I’m not sure where my life will lead me next, but I’m sure of one thing. I’m sure I will be helping others in one way or another. I know I’ll continue to stay active in the community and give back wherever and whenever I can. My goal is to sustain this life I’ve built with the help from many others, and continue to enjoy as much of it as I can.