(Photo by Tony Abraham)
This is part of "Homelessness" month of the Generocity Editorial Calendar. Find the series here.
In 2005, Broderick Green was enjoying his life as an assistant kindergarten teacher in New York.
He found joy in caring for a child who had muscular dystrophy. His career was taking off. In 2006, the father of four and his new wife moved to Philadelphia to start an exciting new life.
By 2007, Green was unemployed, homeless and addicted to crack cocaine. His wife moved back north. His children stopped talking to him.
He wanted to die.
“I really did,” he said, choking back tears. “I did. The sad part is, I’ve always wanted to do better, but the drug addiction was so much stronger.”
The drug addiction smothered the person he was just a year prior. It kept him living in the shelter system. It worked against every effort he made to pull himself out of homelessness — the menial job he tried to hold down, the classes he took at the Community College of Philadelphia. There could be no progress for Green as long as that “$10 hit” took priority.
“I knew if I could go here, I could eat at this time. If I was here at this time, they’re giving out clothes. That’s how I scheduled my day being homeless,” said Green. “In my addict mentality, I wanted to see what everyone was going to give me. As minimal as I had to do. However, that’s not who I am, and it wasn’t who I was before I became homeless.”
The 46-year-old Long Island native remembers having that revelation as he looked around the shelter he was staying in at the time. There, he vowed to get himself help and never return.
In a way, he did return — but as a peer support specialist and case manager at Depaul House, the supportive housing facility in Germantown where he now works to help people who are in the situation he was in not too long ago.
"I'm honored to be in the position I'm in because I was on the other side."
The nonprofit provides shelter, job and skills training to people experiencing homelessness. Green fully credits the organization (and his own case manager Gerald Lockhart, whom Green says he models himself after) for giving him the support he needed to break his addiction and get his life back.
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“I would have never thought I’d be sitting behind a desk helping someone else try to find a better way. It does my heart good when I can help someone. It makes me try harder when I can’t,” he said. “I’m honored to be in the position I’m in because I was on the other side.”
Green has a unique perspective most social service workers don’t have. Having been in his clients’ shoes just four years ago, he brings lived experience to the table. He knows how he got better, and wants to share the lessons he learned getting there.
“You can’t deal with each homeless person on the same level just because they’re all homeless. You can’t link everybody together,” said Green. “I don’t judge or look down on someone who is able to work but chooses to sit down with a sign and ask for money. What goes through my mind is, ‘What can I do to reach him? How can he be motivated?'”
Above everything else, Green said, people experiencing homelessness need to be motivated. They’ve “given up” or are “taking a break.” They need to know they can heal, that there’s a life beyond the misery they’re experiencing now. They need to be spoken to and treated like the human beings they are.
“When I went to [Depaul] and said I needed help [with my addiction], they didn’t say, ‘Come back tomorrow.’ They didn’t say, ‘We’ll call you,'” said Green. “They said ‘Sit down here. We’ll be right back.'”
That’s the compassion Green shows his clients today. It’s the compassion he showed the kids he used to work with as a school teacher. It’s the compassion that helped him pick himself up, reconnect with his family and live a life he once found unimaginable.
“My daughters didn’t speak to me for a while. They didn’t want to have anything to do with me,” said Green. He bows his head, wipes the tears from his cheeks and sits back with pride and humility. “They call me daddy today. They tell me they love me. They call me with their problems. I’m living beyond my wildest dreams.”-30-
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