New Haven Home Recovery presented a program entitled “From Homelessness to Hope” on Nov. 18 in Buckman Theater. Three speakers were welcomed to campus by CAP (Community Action Project) to share their story with students about how they became homeless and their experiences along the way.
Mike O’Neil, a 2003 graduate of Quinnipiac University , came from Washington, D.C., for the event along with Cara Benedetto, Quinnipiac graduate of 2005 and the Clinical Director of Martha’s Place at New Haven Home Recovery.
“People say homeless people are crazy. Only 25 percent have a mental illness. Others say they are alcoholics or on drugs. About 27 percent have addictions, which many gain once they are homeless,” O’Neil said. “Tonight is about putting a face to homelessness and to break down some of those statistics.”
Cat Mellion, the first speaker, explained how one illness took her from prosperity and success to homelessness. Severe depression took her from a life of managing a CPA firm with a boat, Jaguar and limited edition race car to getting shut out of her own house.
“I’m a college graduate and I thought I had life by the tail,” Mellion said. “I am almost glad this happened to me. If you can understand this, I know it sounds crazy but I have a whole new outlook on life.”
The second speaker introduced herself as Wilma, a mother of four who grew up in Bridgeport, Conn. She was living in cars and boxes because she ran away from domestic violence. She spoke of how hard it is now for her to get a job (even though she fluently speaks two languages) because she only reached sixth grade. She is in recovery for drug addiction, has been involved in gangs and has spent time in jail and in an institution for bipolar disorder.
“Life is getting better for me today. It’s not fun being out there but I know I can make a difference,” she said. “Today I just want to be counted, I have never been counted. This is my first time even on a college campus.”
Steve Thomas was the last speaker. He described his “soft” childhood in what he described as “the hood,” leading him to decisions that made him homeless.
As a child, Thomas found himself fighting constantly. Around the age of 13, he was introduced to marijuana and began selling the drug at age 15. This was when his peers stopped picking on him so much. He remembered thinking they finally respected him, instead of fearing the guy he was selling for. Thomas developed a fictitious character named “Big Daddy” that he hid himself with.
“It took me 30 seconds to try that cocaine, and took me 30 years to get off it,” said Thomas. “I was beat, I was broke, I was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Thomas spoke of his journey that took him from an appointment under President Clinton, losing that position and four other jobs, getting a job washing dishes, squandering the money on his addictions, living on a bench for one year, getting fired from dishwashing, and finally finding himself at a shelter.
“The people you have seen in your life are a very small percentage of the homeless community, because more than anything else, homelessness is embarrassing,” he said. “We don’t want you to know we’re homeless because people are cruel. Teenagers are cruel. 85 percent of hate crimes are done to the homeless by 13 to 25 year olds.”
He announced to the applause of the audience and his fellow speakers that Saturday, Nov. 15 was his one year anniversary of being clean and sober.
“I feel like I’m cheating you guys because there’s no way in the world that I can give you guys half of what you give me by allowing me to do this,” Thomas said tearfully at the end of the program.