Stories of Transformation: Billy

Last summer, when daily highs were breaking century-old records, when flights were canceled because they couldn’t operate at temperatures above 118 degrees, when the National Weather Service urged people to reschedule outdoor activities in Phoenix due to “rare, dangerous and very possibly deadly heat” – Billy had nowhere to go to escape – he was living on the streets. “It was horrible. It felt like it was 126 degrees outside,” says Billy. “I would drink water and it would just immediately evaporate. The best I could do was find laundromats where I could sit in front of a fan for a while or look for water fountains where I could soak my shirt and hat to try and stay cool.” Although Billy managed to survive last year’s intense heat wave, a large number of his peers wouldn’t be so lucky.

For those on the streets, our sizzling summers are more than just uncomfortable – they’re deadly. The Maricopa County Department of Health confirmed 47 lives claimed by the heat last year, with 134 more still under investigation. It’s the combination of the dry air, intense sun and radiant heat baked into the concrete that pulls water out of our bodies at an alarming rate. In fact, simple dehydration can elevate to heat exhaustion, then to deadly heatstroke that causes permanent damage to the brain, heart and kidneys, in as little as 15 minutes of exposure. God only knows how close Billy came to becoming a statistic.

That’s why every summer, Phoenix Rescue Mission initiates Code:Red – our mission to protect homeless men, women, and children from the heat by offering water and other supplies to those caught out in the sun. Thankfully, through your love and support, Billy won’t have to risk another deadly summer on the streets. Instead, he’s found hope and new life here at the Phoenix Rescue Mission. “I was standing on the corner near I-17 and Durango, holding my cardboard sign, when a police car pulled up next to me. The officer said, ‘Hey man, you can’t be here.’ I told him, ‘Figures, where can I be at then, sir?’ The officer smiled and started asking Billy who he was and how long he had been on the streets.

“I told him, ‘Way too long. I just want a shower, something to eat and a place to lay down.’ The Officer’s name was Chris Gallegos, and just like that he brought me here [Phoenix Rescue Mission]. It was awesome!” At the time, Billy had spent a combined 13 years homeless here in Arizona and throughout the U.S. He signed up for our Recovery Program and never looked back. “At first it was hard for me to trust anyone. They were just going to end up hurting me – that was my experience all my life. When I came here, it was just so different. How can there be 100 to 150 dudes here and no one is fighting? Nobody is mad at anyone, everyone is hugging each other and smiling… I was like, are you kidding me? What the heck is this all about?” Billy would find out 9 days later when, after hearing a particularly moving sermon in our chapel, he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. “I gave it all to God that day, my problems, my past, everything. Ever since, people have asked me – why are you so happy all the time? I can’t lie, I have to say, ‘I don’t know – ask God!” Billy says with a huge grin. Today, he’s sober, he’s a new creation in Christ, and he’s well on his way to graduation.

He looks forward to the day when he can give back for what he’s been given. “Being homeless for so long, people on the street know me. I’ve sat on Jackson Street and shoved a needle in my arm. I’ve sat on Mill Avenue and smoked a bowl. Stupid stuff. It’s going to blow people’s minds to see me clean and sober. I want to use what I’ve been given to pull them out of their comfort zone and into a better life.” There are hundreds of people every year who are not as fortunate as Billy – for whom this summer could be their last. Help us not only keep them safe – but offer them the kind of transformation Billy found inside our doors – by putting a cold bottle of water in their hands and an invitation to a new life in their hearts. Thank you for the prayers