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.

A Heavy Blessing [Sam’s Story]

Literally held hostage by his addiction, Sam knew he had to run if he was going to find lasting transformation

His second time through our recovery program, Sam couldn’t help but feel like he was missing something.

At 23, he had an addiction to heroin and methamphetamine that rivaled most of the older guys on campus. But even though he was going through the same motions, attending the same meetings, studying the same verses – he wasn’t making the same progress.

“I thought, ‘Why can’t God just take away this addiction so I can get back on track?’ There are people who get sober in 30 days and never look back. My friends from high school were getting their degrees, getting married and having kids. Why was I here again sharing a room with 40 other guys?”

God had two words for Sam: heavy blessing.

“Some blessings come without a cost. But intensive recovery, that’s a heavy blessing. God does a miracle, but He expects you to put in the work.”

Sam admits that’s not where his heart was on the first two attempts.

“The full surrender wasn’t there. I grew up in the church, so I knew all the right things to say, but I put up boundaries. I was saying, ‘Help me out in this area, but these areas of my life, those are none of your business.’”

Sam left the Mission the second time because his heart told him he was ready. But he wasn’t prepared for what his addiction had in store for him.

“I let people live in my townhouse that I shouldn’t have to keep my habit supplied. It became a complete drug den. I sat there and watched it all happen. Near the end there were between 60 and 80 people a day cycling through to buy drugs or guns or other things. People were getting hurt. My own habit was skyrocketing.”

Dangerous people moved in. Men with guns kept a close eye on the house at night. Sam was limited on when he could leave, where he could go and how long he could be gone.

“They let me know that if I was away for too long, they would assume I was snitching on them. If that happened, it wasn’t just me who would have a problem — they would go after my family, too.”

Sam had become a prisoner in his own home. Worse, he had become an addict with access to unlimited amounts of drugs.

“My body was starting to shut down. I was on a $300 to $400 a day heroin habit in addition to a lot of meth. I was extremely sick; I didn’t have control over my own thoughts.”

Then God gave Sam a nudge that may have saved his life.

“I had this feeling that something big was about to happen. It wasn’t paranoia, I feel like God was throwing me a bone. It was a now or never deal. I didn’t want to go back to the Mission after where I’d been, but I knew it was either that or die here.”

At 2 a.m., Sam quickly packed a backpack, slipped out of the house, and ran for his life.

Your support gave Sam a place to run to.

After finally surrendering to God's plan, Sam has become a peer support specialist, a certified chaplain and is currently pursuing a degree in Substance Abuse Counseling at Grand Canyon University.

“I knew there were people at the Mission who cared about me. I decided, even if I don’t like what they tell me to do, this time I’m going to do it. I wanted to find out who God is.”

Just as Jesus has done for us countless times, we welcomed Sam back with open arms and helped him start on the long road ahead.

“In detox, I was awake for 37 days. I don’t remember most of it. I know it was hard to walk, they [Phoenix Rescue Mission staff] would pick me up and move me from one bunk to another when I got sick. I remember that as I started to get my strength back, they would make me get up and walk with me out back. God used them to help heal me.”

When the drugs finally left Sam’s body, something amazing happened. He headed into recovery with a hunger we had never seen in him before.

“We were skeptical of any changes this time,” says Sam’s mother, Shannon. “Because of Covid, there was much less interaction, but we would get a 2-hour visitation pass every now and then. I don’t remember if it was the second or third time, but my husband and I both walked away thinking, ‘He’s definitely different.’ There was a maturity and a humility there that he didn’t have before. When he told us that he was leading worship, we couldn’t believe it.”

“This time I had a real moment of honesty with the Lord,” says Sam. “I told Him, ‘I don’t know you the way I thought I did. I’ve had a taste, but I’m still thirsty.’” Sam has never been the same since.

Today, he’s clean and sober once again. But he’s more than that – he’s transformed. Beyond becoming a graduate, he’s become a peer support specialist, a certified chaplain, and is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science in Substance Abuse Counseling at GCU, all by God’s leading.

“I didn’t want to go back to school,” Sam admits, “but I wanted to do something for people and my resume is extremely thin. I want to be able to say I’ve got life experience, but I’ve also got credentials. So, this is where God is leading me. Again, it’s a heavy blessing. I’m trying to trust and obey… to love people the way Jesus does.”

Sam’s parents are still shocked by the change, but grateful for your support that made it possible.

“The Mission took care of our son when we had no clue what to do,” says Shannon, “and they did it with grace. There are a lot of rehab places, but for us, the faith-based part has to be there. Because that’s where the difference is. Behavior modification is great, but if at the end you have the same heart, it’s not real change. They restore the person on the inside and we feel privileged to give and support that.”

The change she’s seen in her son has also inspired her to get more involved. Shannon serves at our Hope for Hunger Food Bank and is a mentor for one of the women at our Changing Lives Center.

“God is good and He’s got a good plan,” says Sam. “He didn’t give me an easy blessing. It was hard and it still is today. But it’s been the best one. Life keeps getting better.”

Sam's mother, Shannon, and his father are both grateful for your support of Phoenix Rescue Mission, which allowed Sam to find the love and help he needed for a transformed life. 

From Tragedy to Transformation [Debbie’s Story]

Depression couldn’t keep Debbie down — thanks to you

It’s easy to see someone on the street whose life is in shambles and think, “That’ll never be me.”

Just a few years ago, Debbie had every reason to believe it. She’s always been a hard worker. She had a good job and a house. She paid her bills and even had a boyfriend who, she was hoping, might soon become a husband.

But none of us are immune to tragedy.

For Debbie, and many others on the streets, one bad day is all it takes to turn a life upside-down.

It was 2012 when Debbie’s bad day hit her like a ton of bricks.

“My boyfriend passed away from cancer. Losing him put me into this deep depression that I couldn’t get out of. I stopped going to work. I couldn’t get out of bed; my whole world just fell apart.”

Debbie quickly found out that depression doesn’t care who you are, what you have in the bank or what your work ethic is. It’s capable of hollowing out a life just as quickly as any addiction.

Over the span of a few years, Debbie’s hold on life spiraled out of control.

She went from living in a house, to an apartment, and when the savings finally ran dry, to her car.

“I had never been evicted before. I always paid my bills. It was horrible. It was scary, too, because I knew how the homeless were treated. Living in my car, people would look at me like I was some kind of monster. I wasn’t a human being anymore.”

Debbie lived this nightmare for a little over a year and a half, driving her Nissan Sentra up and down Thunderbird Avenue looking for a safe place to sleep.

“I took care of my car, but sometimes you do stupid stuff. I let a friend drive it one day and he was really reckless with it. He tore the gearshift up and suddenly there was all this smoke coming from underneath. It was totaled. I didn’t have any place left to go.”

That’s when your love stepped in.

“I came here [Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center] on the Hope Coach. Cliff [our former Hope Coach Coordinator] picked me up. I had no idea what this place was or what I was getting myself into, but I knew my life had to change. I told God, ‘Whatever you’re planning, Lord, I’m in.’” 

Over the course of a year, your compassion gave Debbie the tools she needed to break the grip of depression on her life.

In a matter of a few short years, Debbie found herself going from a comfortable home to living in her car. She knows firsthand how those experiencing homelessness are treated and wants to help others find the transformation that she found at Phoenix Rescue Mission.

“I got counseling that I would never have gotten before. The trauma egg took a huge burden off my shoulders.”

A trauma egg is a counseling exercise designed to draw out past traumatic experiences in a tangible way. A large egg shape is drawn on a poster-sized sheet. Then, those in recovery fill it from top to bottom with traumatic events from their past, both big and small. With the help of Ta’Mella Pierce, Debbie’s counselor, she was able to work through each event one at a time.

"It opened my eyes to what was holding me back: the co-dependency, the anger, the resentment, the depression, the people-pleasing, it showed me where all that came from when I did my egg. It gave me a road map for what I needed to work on."

Through the exercise, Debbie also discovered there was much more to her depression than the passing of her boyfriend.

I found I had a lot of repressed anger toward my family. My father was very abusive. My mom had been abused as a child and never stuck up for me. I stuffed things down for so long.”

“To help get it all out, Ta’Mella had me write resentment letters. I don’t feel any resentment for anyone anymore because I wrote everything I wanted to say down and gave it to God. I told Him, ‘I don’t want to carry these. I don’t need them anymore.’”

Today, Debbie’s a different person, thanks to you.

“Looking back now, I can see where Jesus has been with me through all the rough times. Even here, when I was going through one of my lowest points, He showed me He was right beside me. The counseling here helped me out of my depression. I feel so much stronger now and I’m never going to go back to my old lifestyle.”

In fact, Debbie’s made it her goal to help others find find hope and healing. She’s completed her Peer Support Certification and hopes to serve those who are experiencing homelessness with hope and guidance.

“I know how people on the street feel, I know how they’re treated. No one should be made to feel less than human. I want to be out there giving them the kind of positive experience that changed my life. I’ve wanted to do that for a long time.”

Debbie is off the streets, depression-free and she’s got you to thank for it.

“We are so blessed here by all the donors. I am thankful every day for what you’ve given us here. God wakes me up and helps me do better than I did the day before. It’s hard work, but this is the best program there is. It changed my life completely.”

With the caring help of her counselor, Ta'Mella Pierce, Debbie discovered the repressed anger that was at the root of her depression. Your support makes it possible for people like Debbie to find freedom from depression.