Phoenix Rescue Mission Launches 10th Code:Red Campaign

Nonprofit Accepting Monetary, Nonperishable Food and Water Donations for Heat Relief

PHOENIX – As temperatures begin to creep upward and summer months roll closer, Phoenix Rescue Mission is kicking off its 10th annual, city-wide Code:Red Summer Heat Relief Campaign to save the lives of the city’s unhoused and at-risk individuals. According to Maricopa County, at least 130 individuals experiencing homelessness died from heat-related causes in 2021. The nonprofit’s goal is to protect our most vulnerable population by collecting and distributing one million bottles of water.

From May 1 through August 31, PRM is providing essential resources to sustain the city’s homeless population, such as nonperishable food and water supplies. Ahead of this Valley-wide undertaking, the Mission is seeking monetary, nonperishable food and water donations. Monetary donations will be matched up to $150,000, made possible by a grant by several supporters of Phoenix Rescue Mission.

“During the summer months in Phoenix, asphalt can heat up to a deadly 170 degrees. Anything above 104 degrees can cause brain damage and death,” said Phoenix Rescue Mission CEO Ken Brissa. “While many Valley residents find respite indoors, our unhoused neighbors cannot take shelter from the heat and need help that can come to them.”

Several municipalities, including Avondale, Peoria, Glendale, Goodyear, Surprise, El Mirage, and Scottsdale, have created partnerships with the Mission, bringing relief to the streets in the Mission’s Hope Coach vehicles to distribute water, toiletries and case management services.

“Anything helps in this undertaking to save and change lives, whether it’s through a small monetary donation, dropping off a case of water or starting a water drive,” said Brissa. “This is so much more than a handout of water. This is arming people with the tools to change their lives and move out of harm’s way.”

More information about the 10th annual Code:Red initiative can be found Red Summer Heat Relief Campaign here. Food, water, and all other heat-relief donations can be dropped off at the Mission’s Donation Warehouse, located at 2515 N. 34th Drive in Phoenix. The Mission is also in need of volunteers to help distribute vital, nutritious food to families in need at its Hope for Hunger Food Bank in Glendale.

For more information on what to donate or to start a Code:Red drive, please contact gikhelp@phxmission.org or 602-346-3347.

Escaping the Deadly Summer Streets (Dezzerai’s Story)

Homeless, pregnant, and alone, Dezzerai and her child were in danger--in more ways than you think.

The corner of 12th Avenue and Madison Street isn’t a place you want to be caught after dark. Last year, this ever-growing tent city in the heart of downtown was the site of 39 aggravated assaults, 13 robberies, 6 burglaries and 1 homicide.

Yet, it was this stretch of sidewalk that a pregnant, 20-year-old Dezzerai called home for two terrifying months – barely avoiding becoming a statistic herself.

“Living in that tent, it felt like a portion of hell. It was so horrible… so evil. I got into fights; people threatened to shoot me. Just the energy – the vibe – it was so off.”

But as dangerous as her neighborhood was, it was nothing compared to the threat that was headed her way – a deadly force of nature that kills hundreds on our streets every year.

Summer was coming.

In Arizona, our summer isn’t just hot, it’s deadly. In fact, just 15 minutes of exposure is enough to cause permanent damage to the brain, heart, and kidneys, and can even lead to death by heatstroke.* But Dezzerai hadn’t put herself in harm’s way by choice.

“There was a lot of hurt, a lot of pain in our house,” Dezzerai remembers. “My dad beat my mom. He was on drugs, but so was she and my grandma. I was adopted out to my great-aunt in Houston when I was 10 years old, but that was bad, too. I ended up running away to Arizona to get back with my mom when I was 17.”

Dezzerai didn’t realize at the time that she was jumping from the frying pan into the fire. The reunion with her mother was anything but stable.

“At first, I was working and she was doing her own thing. But then we started getting high together. It was just a cycle of her using me, me using her, falling out and manipulation between the both of us. One day, I couldn’t go back to her house anymore.”

Dezzerai was 10 weeks pregnant when she hit the streets. She did what she could to survive. She battled Covid. But as the days wore on and the temperature started to rise inside her tent, she knew she was in trouble.

“I hadn’t prayed to Jesus in a very long time. Growing up and seeing how hypocritical my family was about it, Jesus offended me. I totally disconnected from God. That night, I was desperate. I called out to Jesus. The next day, an outreach team came!”

God intervened to save Dezzerai and her baby – just in time.

2020, the year Dezzerai found herself on the streets, was the hottest summer ever recorded in Phoenix history. By the end of October, the blazing temperatures claimed a record 323 lives in Maricopa County – the majority of them homeless. (www.maricopa.gov/CivicAlerts)
Thankfully, your love helped Dezzerai and her daughter escape the blistering streets.

“I was scared I was going to lose my baby. But I had a friend who told me about this place (the Changing Lives Center). She was here before and said it would be good for me. It seemed like something totally different, like somewhere I could find a whole new life.”

Dezzerai attributes her recovery and newfound hope and confidence to the support she’s received from the CLC counseling team.

You gave Dezzerai more than just shelter from the sun. Here she found recovery from her addiction, counseling for her past, parenting classes, childcare for her daughter and direction for her future.

“My counselors are amazing. They have been helping me break generational curses. My grandma lost my mom, my mom lost custody of me; it’s been this never-ending cycle of losing your kids to the system in my family. But I don’t have to conform to that. That ends with me.”

Most importantly, you helped her find the saving relationship that is transforming Dezzerai from the inside out.

"I feel like the only reason I woke up from that nightmare is because I called on Jesus. I just feel like he's speaking to me. If you told me two years ago that I'd be saying that today, I wouldn't have believed you. I'm totally brand new."

Today, Dezzerai and her baby are safe. She’s just three months from completing our Servant Leadership Program, she’s heading back to school to learn how to give back as a healthcare professional and is excited for the new life God has set before her.

But there are hundreds more like Dezzerai who are on the streets at this moment and in danger of becoming a statistic. Together, we can reach them in time, put a life-saving bottle of water in their hand, and invite them to the kind of new beginning only Christ can provide.

Thank you for the prayers and support that will give so many a second chance at life and eternity during the deadly summer months ahead!

*https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/faq.html
Now that she has the security and shelter of the Changing Lives Center, having lunch outdoors is a joy for Dezzerai and her daughter.

Thanks to you, Sylvia is abandoned no more

Left at a park at age 11, Sylvia now has a place of her own for the first time

Sylvia was abandoned by her mom in a public park at 59th avenue and Bethany Home Road when she was just 11 years old.

“I just stayed at the park. I started using drugs and getting in trouble and I’ve been in and out of prison. My world was a little harder than most, but it made me who I am.”

It was when she got out of prison the last time in 2017 that you helped change her world for the better.

“I ran into Rich Heitz [Lead Street Outreach Case Manager] by the Glendale Library. I knew him from when he was on the streets, but now he looked happy. I’d never seen him smile so big!” Sylvia says with a smile to match. “He told me about how he got sober at Phoenix Rescue Mission and that he was working with them now.”

When Sylvia learned about our Glendale Works program, everything started to change.

“I started going regularly, when I was scheduled and even when I wasn’t scheduled, to be a standby in case somebody didn’t show up. I liked doing something positive. Then I started going to their food bank [Hope for Hunger Food Bank] for all their resources. They’re making big changes for the better in Glendale. I’ve been homeless since I was 11 so I’ve seen how much they help, how much has changed.”

Sylvia found she enjoyed doing honest work for honest pay, but she didn’t have any idea where it would lead. Since she became involved with Glendale Works four years ago, big things have happened. She has a new, steady job at the airport, a new puppy companion, Boo, that she loves very much and, recently, you helped her into a new apartment. With the help of our housing case management team, Sylvia now has a place of her own in Glendale for the first time – ever.

Relaxing in her comfortable apartment, Slyvia is no longer alone, thanks to her loyal companion, Boo.

“When they said I could get a housing voucher, I didn’t think it would work, but I put my name in there anyway. Thank God! I came from nothing and I’ve been trying to get it together on my own but it just hasn’t worked. I wouldn’t be here, in this place, without them.”

Thanks to you, Sylvia is abandoned no more.

“It makes all the difference to have somebody there rooting for you, telling you to keep on going. Even when it gets hard. I really do owe Rich, Brian [Housing Case Manager] and Gabe [Street Outreach Supervisor] a great, big thank you!”

When God Uses a Burrito [Alex’s Story]

A quick bite changed Alex’s life when nothing else would

Over the last eight years, Alex has survived severe car accidents, the wrath of the cartel, and multiple overdoses. His friends and family all cut ties. He’s lost job after job, and he even spent six months on the streets. None of it served as a wake-up call for Alex.

“The last time I overdosed, I was at a Circle K. These random people picked me up. I was smoking fentanyl powder when it happened. Luckily, they pushed me out of the car in front of the hospital. When I woke up, the doctors said I was lucky it was cold that night, and the nurse found me when she did. I guess my heart stopped. I called somebody to come pick me up and started getting high again on the way back home.

In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘Dude, this is the third time, and I’m still not dead. Nothing can stop me. Obviously, I’m not meant to die, so I’m going to keep doing it.’”

Despite the setback, God wasn’t ready to give up on Alex. He had something special in mind to finally get his attention.

It was a burrito.

“I was walking home at like 1:00 in the morning. Well, not home, but to one of the abandoned houses I was staying at. A group of people I know would hang out by this office complex and they always had food. So I stopped there, grabbed a burrito, and as I was walking away the cops pulled up and said we were trespassing. They pulled my name, found I had a warrant, and I got arrested. If I hadn’t stopped for that burrito, I would have been high and overdosing again in no time.”

In jail, Alex reached out to everyone he could think of for help.

“I tried calling my son’s mom, and she said she couldn’t help me anymore. That she was done. I called my mom but she wasn’t interested in talking with me. My dad said he wanted nothing to do with me ever again. Then mom said, ‘We love you, but obviously we’re not helping you. You’ve just got to be in jail.’”

Then help came from an unexpected place – you.

“My public defender told me he knew of some program that I could get in, and I’d probably get early release if I was willing to do it. In my head, I’m like, ‘You’re just a public defender. You’re not going to do anything.’ He gave me the number to Jussane [Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Director of Community Engagement].”

Alex’s plan was to show up at the Mission and then leave.

“When I got here, I wanted nothing to do with this place. I was like, ‘These are some weirdo people. This has to be a cult or something. They’re happy for no reason. Everyone keeps asking me what I want, or if they can get me something.’ I was sure they wanted something from me.”

Despite the culture shock, Alex found himself sticking around – and God went to work.

While in Phoenix Rescue Mission's recovery program, Alex "gave that whole God thing a chance" and joy began to return to his life.
As his life was transformed, Alex was reunited with his son, and he’s been in his life ever since.

“I just remember one night I was sitting in chapel, and they were playing this song. And I don’t know why, but I just started crying. It was the first time I cried in, I think, three years. I was like, ‘God, if this is you trying to tell me something, I don’t understand. I don’t get it.’ Then I got this weird feeling. Everything felt like it was gone. Like a weight was gone. It was easier to breathe… I don’t know how to explain it. Everything just felt different.”

That’s when Alex’s life took a different direction.

“I don’t know, it’s like I just finally caught myself being one of those weird people. I started getting happy. I actually wanted to be here. I started giving that whole God thing a chance and things started changing right away. Like everything started working out.”

But it wasn’t just Alex. While God was hard at work on his heart through peer counseling sessions and classes in our recovery program, He was also mending the hearts of those who cared for Alex.

“I ended up talking to my son’s mom, which was a surprise, because she wanted nothing to do with me. She sent me pictures of my son and things just started working out. When I was able to start making phone calls in Inner Healing [the second phase of Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Recovery Program] I was able to call my son and talk to him for the first time in about a year and a half. Then she let me see him again. I’ve been in my son’s life ever since then.”

And as Alex continued to improve, he saw his relationships with his mom and dad heal, court charges were easier to pay back or were dismissed entirely through Homeless Court, and he started to make friends with the weirdos who helped him through it all.

“I’ve always heard so much stuff about rehabs, and that’s why I was like, “I’m never going. They don’t care.” But the staff actually cares here, like Richard Heitz [Lead Street Outreach Case Manager], he’s the one that picked me up from jail. Jussane, she didn’t even know me, and we spent a week on the phone, talking. And she talked to my mom for me, while I was in jail. She’s the reason why I got in here. And then, Richard Jones [Recovery Coach], he’s been amazing.”

Today, Alex is transformed. He’s sober, a graduate of our recovery program, and soon to be married to the mother of his son, Zander. He’s got a great job that he loves, he’s working on earning his CDL and has just bought the first car he’s ever owned. For the first time in a long time, Alex has a bright future ahead of him.

“I was nervous about being on my own again. But I realized, maybe like a weekend into it, that I’m set. I know what I’m supposed to do. I know how I’m supposed to be. And I know what I need to do if I need help. It’s kind of like school, everything they taught you there [at the Mission], was for a reason. You don’t realize how much you need it until you leave. The leadership stuff, the parenting classes – it helped me a lot, especially in having patience with this little guy,” Alex says, hugging Zander.

Alex still can’t believe God started it all with a burrito. And of course, he’s grateful to you for making everything, post-burrito, possible.

“Because of you, you gave me a chance at a life that everybody gave up on me for. Because of you, I have my kid. Because of you, I know how to be a man now. And because of you and this place, I’m alive. If I hadn’t come here, I probably would have been dead. It’s just crazy because I wouldn’t have all this if it wasn’t for the Mission and for God and you. I’m grateful for everything.

As a graduate of our recovery program, Alex now has the tools to navigate life successfully. He has a job he loves and will soon be married to his son’s mother.

How to Respond to the Addiction of a Loved One

By Lisa Crist, PRM Associate Counselor, LMSW, MSW

Loving someone with an addiction is a difficult and painful experience. We desperately want to help our loved one, yet their hostile, abusive and sometimes criminal behavior breaks our hearts and destroys trust. How do we respond in love without enabling our family member to continue in their sickness?

Get Educated.

There are many falsehoods and myths associated with addiction. Most people with substance or alcohol use disorder are not “choosing” to be addicts; they have a diagnosable condition requiring intensive treatment. Arm yourself with as much education as possible in order to respond appropriately to the person you love. Seek out places to discover more about addiction. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is an excellent place to find resources for help and education: samhsa.gov.

Get Help.

Many Christians resist sharing their stories for fear of judgement by others. Please understand this: It is not your fault your family member is ill. Addiction is a family disease, and the entire family needs help to recover. Simply put, you cannot navigate this issue alone.

Parents and Friends of Addicted Loved Ones (palgroup.org) provide family members hope in hopeless situations. Celebrate Recovery (celebraterecovery.com) provides Christ-based 12-step help to families plagued by addiction; check your home church or search your local area for meetings.

Get Tough.

Many of you have heard it takes “tough love” to help a person with addiction. This is true; however, this kind of love is tough on the person doing the loving rather than on the one being loved. We think we are helping our family member by rescuing them. In fact, we are enabling the addiction to continue every time we intervene to prevent them from falling.

Resist the temptation to “help” your family member with money, housing, or anything else standing between them and getting help. Get out of God’s way and let natural consequences happen.

Love Extravagantly.

This is difficult. People with addiction are not always loveable. They use manipulation as a tool to get you to do what they want. Take the tool out of their hands by not withholding your love from them. See them if it is safe do to so. Give them nothing but your time and attention. Practice saying things like, “I love you so much, and I will not give you any money at any time.”

Above all, pray for God to overwhelm your loved one with His love. They may not acknowledge or appreciate it, but you can have peace knowing that you are loving them in the best way possible.