Our Graduates, Graduate!

Recently, in a collaborative effort between Phoenix Rescue Mission and the Governor’s office of Youth, Faith, and Family’s Arizona Angel Initiative (AAI) program, 15 of our graduates have become credentialed as Peer Support Specialists!

A Peer Support Specialist uses his or her lived experience to offer strength, insight and hope to others. Essentially, they are living proof that recovery is possible. But more than that, as trained specialists, they are able to journey with others on their own path to recovery.

“Having peer support credentials means that the struggles that held me back my entire life now enable me to help other people,” says Kasandra, who graduated from our recovery program in July of this year. “It’s exactly what I need to really make a difference.”

Peer Support credentials are highly prized in the recovery world. They open doors to employment in primary care offices, medical centers, emergency rooms, clinics, inpatient and outpatient facilities, recovery centers, faith-based organizations and criminal justice settings, just to name a few. As such, they are not easy to obtain. Each graduate is required to attend five eight-hour classes to prepare for the 100-question competency exam at the end of the course.
We’re proud to say that EVERY ONE of our graduates passed this grueling exam with flying colors!

“The anticipation was heart wrenching!” says Billy. “They called us one by one and when I heard my score I jumped in the air, clicked my heels and yelled. ’98 percent!? Woo-HOOO!’”

We would like to thank CHEEERS, a non-profit focused on individuals and families affected by behavioral health conditions, and their members, Lisa Zaran and Carlie Shillet, for providing excellent Peer Support training that made earning these credentials possible for our graduates.

Carlie shares, “It was a wonderful experience and I have learned so much about what Phoenix Rescue Mission does for the community. It truly was a pleasure to train the 15 men and women. I would love to come back and train more! These men and women exude the mission statement and the values that Phoenix Rescue Mission was built on.”

The Ripple Effect

One way or another, God's work leads to new life.

Ken was a success story in progress...

It had been a whirlwind couple of months for Ken. First, he had reconnected with his estranged brother, Randy, after more than 10 years, only to discover Randy had been homeless for a while. Then a few weeks later, Ken was evicted from his apartment and became homeless himself. When the brothers decided to pool their resources and rent an apartment together, Ken showed up on move-in day but Randy was nowhere to be found. Sitting in front of his new apartment bewildered, he was approached by a stranger.

“This guy comes up to me and asks, ‘What’s up?’ and I don’t know him from anybody so I say, ‘I don’t know.’ And at that point he says, ‘I take it that you don’t know what’s happening.’”

The man was our recovery graduate Rich Heitz, the driver of our newest Hope Coach. He explained that he had met up with Randy on the streets and that Randy was currently enrolled in Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Men’s Recovery Program. Randy had asked Rich to meet up with his brother and explain what happened.

“I was in shock. It sounded to me like my brother had abandoned me. So I took my stuff and told Rich, ‘Goodbye! I’ve gotta walk.”

Ken went to live in the river bottom in lower Buckeye, but Rich continued to keep in contact, hoping to convince him to leave the streets. Nothing Rich said seemed to have an effect, until he approached Ken one day with sad news – Randy was in hospice.

“I got to talk to him one last time. He told me that he was sorry for leaving, but that he had to do it. He passed away shortly after.”

At Phoenix Rescue Mission, we believe God’s work never returns void. This was a perfect example of the ripple effect of God’s love in action.

“That was a wake-up call for sure. I knew in that moment I needed to turn a corner, find something better. I called Rich and told him to sign me up.”

Ken enrolled in our Men’s Recovery program. He accepted Christ and was baptized on June 18th!

Ken wasn’t the first to benefit from the ripple effect and he won’t be the last. You may have heard about a young man named Joshua Staggs. He had been homeless in Goodyear for five years, until a partnership between Phoenix Rescue Mission and the Goodyear Police Department started a ripple effect of its own.

“He was a heroin addict and used meth,” says Officer Martinez. “We had many prior encounters with him. He was one of our frequent flyers.”

But that soon changed. In September of last year, Goodyear PD formed a special “Homeless Outreach Team,” comprised of Officer Martinez and Sergeant Ward, designed to offer resources to the homeless.

“We go out and look for individuals on the streets or in camps. Together with Phoenix Rescue Mission, we offer them hygiene kits, water, shoes, and clothing. The ID vouchers are the most popular, that’s a door-opener. Once we started the homeless outreach and began offering Joshua resources, he decided to go to the methadone clinic to try to kick the drugs.”

Nine months later, Joshua was back on his feet, off the streets and living in his brand-new home.

“Phoenix Rescue Mission helped him a lot with transportation, with bus passes and actually driving him to get his ID. From what he tells me, it was that feeling that somebody cares that helped him decide to make the change.”

That’s more proof that when you meet people where they are, there’s no telling what God can do or how many lives you’ll transform. Thank you for the support that’s making big waves in our city!

Increasing Hope.

The hotter it gets, the more urgent it becomes to reach the least, the last, and the lost, on the streets of Phoenix. We’re in a race against time and temperature. The good news is, we’re ramping up our Hope Coach program to reach even more lives.

Recovery graduate Rich Heitz, who operates the newest Hope Coach, along with his partner and fellow recovery graduate, Brently Kiesling, says they’re doing much more than that.

“We help them with water and hygiene, but we also help people get their IDs, Social Security cards, birth certificates, and of course, take advantage of one or more of our programs. We also do something we call diversion. If any of the homeless we meet have family in another state who are willing to let them live there and help them find employment, we’ll help them to get back to them.”

As part of Code:Red, each Hope Coach hits the road for eight or more hours a day, searching different parts of the valley for opportunities for transformation. This week, it changed the life of a stranded family.

“We met a mom and her three kids who drove down from Vegas looking for work. Their car broke down two months ago. She was pregnant at the time and had premature twins (girls) 10 days later, who are still at the hospital. They’ve been living out of that car ever since. Instead of getting DCS [Department of Child Safety] involved, we were able to bring them all to the Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center. Now mom’s safe, the kids are safe; it was a good day.”

This is the kind of rescue you make possible every day with your support of the Phoenix Rescue Mission. It’s hard to imagine how stories like these would end without friends like you!

“It’s really cool,” says Rich. “Every day is different… I couldn’t ask for a better job. I was homeless myself for a lot of years, drug-addicted, needle-junkie; I have scars that’ll never go away. It gives me a lot of empathy when it comes to the homeless and addicted. I never wake up and say, ‘man, I’ve got to go back to work today.’ Every day is exciting! Every day is an adventure.”

It was so hot, I thought I was going to die.

Amanda was born with hearing loss, a disability that made her self-conscious around others. It led her to become a people-pleaser, as a way to overcome the difficulty of making friends. Later in high school, when pleasing others meant experimenting with drugs, Amanda eagerly traded sobriety for acceptance.Amanda Cover

"I did whatever it took to be accepted," remembers Amanda. "As soon as I started doing drugs, all of a sudden I had friends and I started fitting in."

To Amanda, it seemed like a minor compromise. The drugs didn’t get in the way of the important things – she still managed to graduate and even found a steady, well-paying job at a law firm. But when she was 25, her boyfriend turned her on to something that would quickly eclipse all her priorities.

“Once I tried heroin, all bets were off. Everything up to that point had been recreational. This was different. I loved it. After two weeks I started to become physically dependent on it. Within two months, I lost my job at the law firm because all I wanted to do was get high.”

Over the next 12 years, Amanda would continue to cede ground in her life to addiction. Relationships, possessions, her home, even her freedom, were slowly devoured bit by bit until June of 2017 – when she finally had nothing left to give. Amanda found herself homeless. But worse than that, she was homeless in the worst possible time and place – summer in Phoenix.

It didn’t take long for Amanda to realize she was in trouble. She didn’t need anyone to explain to her the dangers of braving the summer heat day in and day out – she was living it.

“It was so hot, I thought I was going to die. I would go inside stores to get cool, but they would kick me out. I tried to stay hydrated the best I could by sneaking water from McDonalds, but I was still walking all day, trying to survive. It was exhausting.”

One hot day, the exhaustion caught up with Amanda. When she lay down to rest, she didn’t realize how close she came to never waking up.

“I woke up on a bench with paramedics around me. They said I had passed out from the heat. That was pretty scary.”
If God hadn’t intervened, it could have easily been the end of the story for Amanda – as it is for an average of 180 others who don’t survive the summer every year in Arizona. Thankfully, God had a better plan.

Shortly after, Amanda was caught with drugs by her probation officer and was given a choice – prison or recovery. She chose recovery at Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center – but she wasn’t happy about it.

“I came here kicking and screaming. When they told me I would be here for a year I said ‘No way! Are you kidding me?’”

One thing each of our graduates can attest to – the enemy doesn’t give up ground willingly. It took time, but slowly, the sobriety, the love and encouragement of our staff and our counselors and some prompting by God Himself, helped Amanda to see her situation for what it truly was.

“I was crying every day for two weeks, but then God told me, ‘Look, you cannot control this situation. So why don’t you make the best of it?’ I was finally just like, ‘Ok, let’s do this.’”

This July marks two years since Amanda walked through our doors – and thanks to God and to the support of our friends – the change has been amazing.

“This program really let me know who God is and how to have an actual relationship with Him. I had always thought; I’m just going to be a junkie for the rest of my life. I didn’t really think there was any hope. But coming here and seeing all the transformation God has done for others, and witnessing my own transformation, it’s an indescribable feeling. I know who I am in Christ and know what I’m worth and what I deserve.”

Through your prayers and support, Amanda is spending this summer safe from the deadly heat. Even better – she’s encouraging others to do the same!

After graduation, she was accepted into our Servant Leadership program and currently works in our R.A.P. (Rescue-Assess-Place) Unit, helping women and mothers with children find freedom from life-controlling problems.

“I just get so excited to share the love and the grace of God with these ladies when they come in. They’re ashamed, they’re scared, they’ve done things in their life, and I get to help them realize that God loves them no matter what and can use their story for amazing things. I just love to be a part of that, being able to give people hope! If I can be out there, doing drugs, shoplifting, sleeping in alleys, pushing grocery carts everywhere I go, and now I can be doing this? They can do it too – there’s hope in recovery. It’s possible.”

Amanda is just one example of the thousands of men, women and children on our streets, right now, who are in danger from the summer heat. Thank you for the support, whether it comes in the form of time, talent or treasure, that continues to provide hope to those caught on the streets this summer. God bless!

Glendale WORKS: A program with an eye for transformation

It’s 4:30 a.m. Long before most of us roll out of bed, Gabe is loading the last of the sack lunches on Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Glendale Works trailer. His mission is clear – to hire 11 homeless men and women for five hours of work cleaning up the streets of Glendale.

But his goal isn’t as obvious as you would think.

When Gabe hits the road, it’s not just to provide someone with a day of honest work, or a meal, or even to beautify the streets of Glendale. He’s out there for something far more important. To inspire, to motivate and, ultimately, to transform lives.

“I used to serve on the [Phoenix Rescue Mission’s] Hope Coach, but I like this better. I get to spend extended time with people, it’s not so random. While there’s something to be said for random opportunities, the people who are showing up to work seem to have motivation to change. It’s easier to direct them toward better things.”

Gabe already has fans. Sylvia, who started signing up for the program shortly after it began last November, sees him as a role model.

“He’s cool,” says Sylvia. “He started from nothing too. If he can do it, and be this happy, so can we. It’s inspiring. He makes it look possible.”

Those who sign up receive $55 for a fivehour shift, a breakfast and a sack lunch, as well as the opportunity to connect with resources designed to end homelessness. It’s a popular program. The waitlist for Glendale Works currently sits at a week and a half, but it’s changing lives every day.

Virginia, who has completed more than 30 shifts over the past few months, now has enough saved to make the trip back home to New Jersey and start over. Donovan, who is working alongside Sylvia, Virginia and eight others this morning, will eat well tonight because of the wage he earns here.

“It really was a blessing because I needed the money,” says Donovan. “I wasn’t able to eat for a while… it was a struggle. If there wasn’t anything around like this, I don’t know what I’d do.”

As summer comes and the temperatures begin to rise, Glendale Works also represents another way to help the homeless out of the deadly heat as a part of our Code:Red initiative.

Thank you for the prayers and support that make programs like this possible! We’ve had such success that we’re looking to roll out Works programs to other cities in the Phoenix Metro area soon – stay tuned for details!

For more information about Glendale Works, visit here, or contact Gabe at gpriddy@phoenixrescuemission.org.