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.”
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.
Dezzerai attributes her recovery and newfound hope and confidence to the support she’s received from the CLC counseling team.
“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!
Now that she has the security and shelter of the Changing Lives Center, having lunch outdoors is a joy for Dezzerai and her daughter.