Gerald Brower should be enjoying a steady retirement. He should have had his feet kicked up and been chatting with his buddies about tee times. Gerald is almost 70 years old. In an idyllic world, this is what Gerald’s life would have looked like. Gerald worked for 37 years in the Mortgage Banking business, and earned a stable income doing so. According to plans, he should have reached that idyllic lifestyle of cozy retirement.
Life does not always go according to plan though. Plans are subject to change, and subject to change at the mercy of life. The position many older adults find themselves in, Gerald was the primary caregiver for his mom and dad, and he lived by their side in his childhood home until they died. This was far from ideal, but it is a reality that many grown children are faced with. But life was not done with Gerald.
The year was 2007 and the recession hit right as Gerald was claiming his life back from the role of caregiver. Gerald was one of the many who became unemployed, and suddenly Gerald could not make the monthly payments on his family’s home. He was forced to sell the family home.
Gerald put his head down and found the next best thing. He rented a house for two years, when the landlord raised the property rent. Suddenly, Gerald was forced to move again. Gerald had a stable life for so long, and now he begun grasping at straws just to keep a roof over his head. That is the thing about homelessness. It has no bias and it shows no mercy. Any person in this country could find themselves homeless and out of options in the perfect storm of circumstances. Gerald tried to put funding together for a real estate project that would have earned him a large commission. But the deal fell apart. Gerald’s options had run dry, he had almost no money, and Gerald was evicted.
For the first time in his life, he was homeless, facing a set of circumstances that nobody would envy, and doing it at an advanced age after living his entire life with some measure of security. Despite the circumstances, Gerald packed up and put his head down again. He put his belongings in storage, borrowed money from an acquaintance, and did what he could while living out of his car. His friends did what they could to help him, but Gerald was often on his own.
Or so he thought. Gerald’s friend had heard about Lutheran Social Services and took it upon herself to get Gerald to our office in Thousand Oaks. He was at the lowest place in his life and wondered if LSS could actually do anything for him, or if they even cared. This is often the case with people facing first time homelessness. They have never had to ask for help and doing so presents a daunting challenge. “Why would anyone take care of me when I should be able to take care of myself?” they might ask. LSS does not care what should be or what used to be. LSS focuses on present needs and empowering individuals to prevent these realities from reoccurring.
Gerald was given a large bag of food items and told about the shelter at Calvary Church in Westlake Village. That’s where he spent the night, back in shelter, but lost as to the next move. The staff listened to his story, explored options he never would have discovered on his own, accepted him, and treated him with dignity. Even though Gerald didn’t have a place to live, it felt like he had found a new family.
Gerald is certain LSS saved his life. When he had no place to live and no way out of his situation, LSS embraced him with love and patience, and insisted he still had a future ahead of him. About six weeks after coming to LSS, and upon a routine doctor checkup, he was diagnosed with Large B-Cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He received treatment, and after six rounds of chemotherapy, is currently cancer free. Without having found Lutheran Social Services and having regained his footing, Gerald never would have discovered the thing that could have actually killed him. We often do not realize what it means to be homeless. In losing your place of shelter, you lose to ability to do so much else that is taken for granted in life. Like routine check-ups.
Gerald worked every day as a volunteer at LSS, answered the phone, greeted clients, and tried to be as compassionate to each of them as the LSS staff and volunteers had been to him. He helped fill backpacks for children and assisted in anything else that was needed. There was always something else to be done at LSS. There was always a way for Gerald to pay it forward. When we bring up those around us, they almost certainly look to do the same for others. Gerald eventually moved into his own apartment and finally began to consider what the future might hold for him rather than what the past had taken.