Willie and Trace got married this past April. In the two years they’ve known each other, they’ve faced challenges both as individuals and as a couple and the two are still working hard to stay strong. “Trace put me on track,” Willie says. “She said ‘stay straight or hit the door.’ ” Shortly after they met, Trace started accompanying him to Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, which had been a source of Willie’s strength for many years.
Originally from L.A., Willie was kicked out of home by his mother at only seventeen. After that he left California, traveling “from city to city” on a quest to find his father – a man he hardly knew. It was here, in New York, that Willie finally tracked him down, living on the Upper East Side. Unfortunately for Willie, the reunion he had dreamed of didn’t offer all he hoped it would. With nowhere left to turn, Willie found himself homeless and on the streets.
For Willie life on the streets was tough and he turned to drugs and alcohol to numb his pain. Sleeping at nights behind the Holy Apostles Church he would often see the line extend around the block. After a while he decided to join them, and he found the soup kitchen could offer him a lot more than a hot meal.
“You know,” he says,” sometimes I needed to cry, but I couldn’t cry outside. I used to sit right next to the piano player and I could cry there. You see other people come in here and they can cry too, because they feel more comfortable crying inside. Sometimes I listened to the piano player and just hear the peacefulness. I needed that. You can see it in other people’s faces too, sometimes when he plays. They’ll have their spoon right up to their face, and they’ll stop and just watch and listen to his playing. Sometimes the whole place will quiet down and just listen for a few moments.”
After a while Willie built up enough trust to speak to one of our counselors who secured a referral to an inpatient treatment program. Despite his best efforts, addiction still had a strong hold on Willie and it took him several years before he would stay more than one or two nights. He finally decided to “get serious”, and stayed for thirty six months in a program that helped him develop skills for the outside world, include work skills. He found his favorite jobs were in the kitchen.
Today, Willie’s life is getting back on track. As well as being married to Trace, he has secured a job he is proud of, working for a catering company, delivering pastries. Although he is earning for the first time in a long time, it is still tough for Willie to make ends meet. Coming here for lunch as well as additional services like haircut vouchers helps Willie stretch his budget.
Like Willie, for Trace the soup kitchen has become a place she can rely on, not only for a meal but for the support she finds here. “It’s been good for us,” she says. “When we didn’t have any place to go, we could come here where we had good food and could warm up for a few minutes. You come in here and you know that God is really here. God is in every one here. There are strong people around us.”
Although the couple had their own rental apartment for a while, due to dangerous and violent circumstances in their building, they were forced to leave. Once again, the support they found here was key to navigating this next phase of their journey together.
“This place has a lot of good services,” Trace remarks. “We went to support groups here and learned a lot [about] different topics – finding a place to live, dealing with shelters – we got other people’s advice and we helped other people too.”
Today, the couple is living together in a shelter. They are grateful they can be together but are hopeful for the future when they can find a more permanent home. Trace is looking forward to the writers’ workshop recommencing in the fall when she can finish her novel. For Willie, being able to rely on the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen throughout all these changes has offered him a consistency which he has always sought. Pointing over to the line of volunteers serving lunch, he smiles. “Jackie’s been here since I’ve been coming here. She just gets younger and younger and stronger and stronger. It makes me want to stay on track.”