When we caught up with Albert Mitchell, it was 11 am, and he had just finished a 12-hour shift at work. Mitchell, a Brighton, Colo., resident with two kids, will head home to sleep afterward. But for Mitchell, “home” hasn’t always been so clearly defined. As an adult who has struggled to find stable housing in the past, he’s experienced homelessness and the transition out of it. Mitchell sat down to share his story and thoughts about the stereotypes surrounding those in transitional housing.
Q: Tell us about your recent experience with housing transition.
Albert Mitchell: My kids’ mom and I separated while I was [working] in the oil fields. I had to leave that job in order to get split custody of my kids, which was unfortunate because I liked doing it and I had been doing it for over three years. And then I met a lady, and got into a relationship that wasn’t very good. She drank a lot and was verbally and physically abusive. It wasn’t productive for my children to be in that kind of environment so I decided that [leaving] was a sacrifice I needed to make. I bit the bullet one day and said, “I’m going to go and try and find something.” And I slept in my truck for three days, and I was trying to find where I could go. I called downtown [Denver] to see if they had a homeless shelter. The place I was connected to was where a lot of transients hang out, and I didn’t want to bring my children into that environment either. So I was talking to a lady who does community service in the area, and she told me to go to the Catholic Community Center or go to Almost Home. I went to Almost Home. [They told me that] 30 days goes by real fast so that I needed to be very productive and proactive about job searching and looking for a place to stay. So I did that, and it was really peaceful. It took me from a place of verbal and physical abuse to having a place of serenity. I think it’s a great place for people to transition, because it’s clean, and your kids can be there.
Q: How were you able to find more permanent housing?
AM: I found a private landlord, and had the money and got approved through Adams County Housing [Authority]. I signed a lease agreement. Adams County approves you for a certain amount of money that will go towards your first month’s rent and your deposit. That money is given to the landlord, and then you’re pretty much there and on your way. It’s a really good option that helps out quite a bit.
Q: What sort of roadblocks did you encounter along the way to stable housing?
AM: A lot of homeless shelters have too many transients around. For people who are transitioning, you don’t always want that element there. At Almost Home, it’s like a house. It looks like transitional housing. They need more of it out there. Also, there’s a lot of single fathers like myself that are in the same situation. There’s a lot of help catered to single mothers, but there are also single fathers out there that need that help, too.
Q: What sort of misconceptions are there about homelessness?
AM: I have a college certificate from Emily Griffith’s. I’m educated. The misconception is that you don’t look like you should be homeless. I tell a lot of people, “Bad things happen to good people.” That doesn’t mean we don’t deserve an opportunity. There are so many people out there like myself who are ambitious. We just need, so to speak, to hit the reset button. Or we need a shot in the arm of adrenaline to get ourselves over that hump. I think when people see [homeless] people, they look at them like, “Well, you have a nice car – why are you homeless?” or “You have nice clothes – why are you homeless?” Well, because bad things happen to good people. You can get laid off from your job and your income is the only one your family has. There’s a stereotype that a homeless person should be walking around smelling like liquor in dirty clothes, but that’s just not true. I would sleep in my car until the rec center opened up and go in and lift weights, shower, then go to work and sleep in my car again – and that’s what my day would consist of during the week. I’m not ashamed to share that. It makes people understand your plight and what you’ve been through. I don’t think people should be ashamed of being homeless.
Q: What would you like people facing a similar situation to know?
AM: Many times I wanted to give up. I was frustrated. Because I felt like, you know, where am I gonna get the extra money to pay off this debt so that I can get myself out of this situation? My strength was me praying every day and staying focused. Some people aren’t believers, and even those that aren’t believers [should] have faith that there’s gonna be sunshine when the rain stops. That situation is going to pass. You’re not going to be in it forever as long as you’re doing what you can. Be strong, become more ambitious and don’t give up. As long as you never quit trying, you’ll never lose.
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