Homeless men share their tales
Passing by a men’s homeless shelter, it may be easy for some people to judge.
But each one of the men at Detroit Lakes’ Compassion House has a story from their own long and oftentimes painful road that led them there.
19-year-old Justin Mack has been living at the Compassion House for only three weeks now — it’s one of so many places he’s lived in his young life he quickly runs out of fingers counting them.
“My mom’s ex-boyfriend moved around a lot, so we did too,” he said. His words sound simple, but his eyes reflecting a look as if there are million, hard-to-hear stories behind them.
Mack says he spent a significant time growing up in Los Angeles, and although his life is what most would consider “rough”, he had a hero to look up to.
“My cousin, who was in the army — I wanted to be just like him,” said Mack. “He was the only positive influence in my life.”
But when Mack was only 13, his hopes for the future were shot down.
“My cousin was shot and killed, and when he was, something in my brain changed,” he said. With the one person gone who Mack considered a shining light of hope, his world went dark.
“I started getting into drugs and alcohol — starting smoking some things when I was 13,” he said, adding that one of the many moves brought him and his mom up to Wadena.
“I just kept basically smoking my brains away, and started getting into some pills and then heavier drugs,” he said. “Then I started selling drugs and runnin’ guns.”
He dropped out of the Wadena High School, and says his relationship with his mom hasn’t been good.
“I’m not allowed to live with her for legal reasons,” he said, adding that he recently got out of jail for an altercation with his mother.
When he was released from jail last month, he had nowhere to go.
“If I hadn’t come here, I would have frozen from hypothermia outside,” he said, admitting that for the past few years, he has been so emotionally damaged and “messed up” that he was suicidal.
“I was destructive against other people,” he said. “I didn’t care about human life — including my own.”
Although Mack says he is only a few weeks clean of drugs, he also says he wants more than anything to stay that way. He says life at the Compassion House has changed something within him.
“Now that I’m here, it’s kind of opened my eyes up to what life is all about — what it can be, and not all that negative stuff,” he said, adding that he knows he will continue to battle hard with his addiction to drugs.
“If someone were to put them right in front of me right now, I don’t know if I could say no,” he said, honestly, “but that’s why I have to cut my ties from everything and everybody negative and just stay close to the right kind of people.”
For Mack, that means grasping onto church and the positive influences that he has found at the Compassion House.
It also means shooting for some goals like getting his GED.
He is also waiting to hear about a recent job he applied for, and he wants to someday hold a good job and buy a house of his own.
For Mack, only three weeks out of “the darkness”, he understands how vulnerable he still is and doesn’t believe he necessarily “deserves” a good life.
“That’s a selfish way of looking at things I think,” he said. “You know, I’d life to have a chance at happiness, but if I don’t get it, maybe it was never meant to be. I guess we’ll see.”
20-year-old Cory Weber sits next to his new buddy, Justin Mack, and one would think they’d known each other all their lives.
“Yeah, we’ve become pretty close,” says Weber, who understands the type of hard life his friend has had.
“I guess my mom was pretty bad into drugs,” he said, “In fact, I was born addicted to drugs.”
Originally from Florida, Weber says him, his dad and his little brother moved around a lot growing up.
One of those moves brought them to Frazee, but he says a couple of years ago his father kicked him out, adding that since then he’s been placed in adult foster care, hopped around from friend to friend looking for a place to stay and most recently rented a place with a couple of friends.
And although Weber says he doesn’t believe drugs and alcohol have been a big problem for him, he says a human services professional recently diagnosed him with bipolar disorder and last fall he had a falling out with the friends he was living with.
He was homeless.
But a co-worker at Walmart who Weber says was sort of playing a motherly role in his life, got him to go to church and to the Compassion House.
For the past four months, he has been there, pouring his energy into staying positive.
“My goals are to keep going to church and trying to go to the DLCCC more to stay in shape,” he said, adding that he also wants to save up money to get his own place again.
He says in the meantime, he loves where he is at and the people around him.
“The guys here are awesome,” he said, adding that a lot of them try to help each other out, as many of their problems tend to at least be similar.
Weber says he although he is feeling more positive at the Compassion House than he’s ever felt, he is still not ready to put a lot of hope into his future.
“I won’t lie — I’m really not there yet,” he said, “but I hope to be. I just have to keep finding the right people.”
Mike Lind could have been anybody’s child.
“Yeah, I had a pretty good life growing up,” said 21-year-old Lind, who says despite the fact that he didn’t have a good male role model in his life until the past couple of years, he’s always had a good mother and a sister he’s close with.
Growing up in southern Minnesota, life for Lind was what most would consider typical.
But when he was in his mid-teens, he started experimenting with alcohol and marijuana along with his friends.
It may not have been a huge deal, except Lind and his friends got a hold of some heroin when he was 16.
It took almost no time for heroin to get a hold of him, and soon, the mild-mannered boy with the blue eyes and friendly smile was a full-blown drug addict.
“I’ve been through like three or four near-death experiences with overdoses,” he says, one of them topping them all.
Lind says he was at his grandmother’s house when he shot up. “My mom called, and she could hear it in my voice, so she called the cops,” he said, adding that when the authorities arrived, he jumped out a window and began running.
“I was so high I thought the police dogs were after me, so I took off almost all my clothes, climbed up a tree and waited it out,” said Lind, who then proceeded to not just pass out, but almost die.
“I woke up down in Rochester because I got airlifted down there,” said Lind, adding that he had three cardiac arrests while being resuscitated.
“The doctors told my family that I probably wouldn’t make it, but if I did I wouldn’t ever be the same,” said Lind, who did make it, but had to relearn how to walk.
Even that incident wasn’t enough to stop his addiction, as Lind has spent the past few years in and out of about a dozen treatment facilities, which he admits he never remained sober through.
“I thought I was invincible,” he said, “My famous words were that I would just quit when I was ready to settle down with a wife and kids.”
Lind was a mother’s worst fear.
“It’s been so hard on her,” he said, his eyes cast down, “She was always so worried about where I was, what I was doing, to the point where she couldn’t even sleep at night.”
Lind says it was also a nightmare for his sister and his new stepfather, who stuck by him through all the treatments.
“They never gave up on me,” he said.
Lind entered Teen Challenge, an intensive, Christian-based treatment facility down by the Twin Cities.
During his time there, he came to Detroit Lakes with the program’s choir to sing at local churches.
That’s where he met Lynette Price, director at the Compassion House.
Although Lind went back to the Twin Cities and ended up quitting Teen Challenge seven months into the 13-month program, he remembered Price and the place called The Compassion House.
“So I called her, and she said I could come,” he said, smiling.
Although Lind says he never made it through Teen Challenge, he says it still changed him and believes it set the stage for him to begin a successful life in Detroit Lakes.
“It’s the God thing,” he said, excited about how involved he’s gotten in his new church and hopeful about the positive friends he’s met since coming to Detroit Lakes last month.
Fueling that excitement and desire to begin his new, clean life is his new job at BDT as a welder, a trade he studied out of high school.
“They start out with really good wages, I’ve got full benefits with a 401-K, and they really care about their employees … there’s a lot of room to grow here,” he said, excitedly.
And for the first time in a very long time, Lind is not just thinking about the future, but actively planning for it.
He gets his first paycheck Thursday, and after buying some new work boots and a couple of needed items, he wants to start saving to get his own place.
And he doesn’t just have hope for himself, but believes in himself and what he has to offer others moving forward.
“My mom told me that where I’m at now is every mother’s dream and that she knows I’m going to make a really great father and husband one day,” he said, admitting shyly, but confidently that he believes that, too.
“I’ve never actually made it,” he said, “but this time, I am … I know I am, and I’m just pumped.”