I Got Sober At St. Anthony’sMay 12th, 2009
Personal And Economic Recovery
Larry’s hand moves over the men’s coat rack with the same articulation he uses in conversation– thoughtful, astute, measured, and gentle.
“Nice fabric. A little big, I can tell already,” he notes, as his hand pauses on one crisply hung jacket before making its way to the next. The afternoon light spills across racks of clean, well cared for trousers, shirts, jackets, and shoes in St. Anthony’s Clothing and Housewares’ bright retail-like store, where no money is exchanged but where thoughtfully donated clothing is made available for free to those in need of an interview outfit, a warm coat, or just a clean set of clothing. Our program supplies free clothing, appliances, and linens to thousands of people each year. In 2008 alone we provided more than 29,000 guests like Larry with a wardrobe to suit the paths they are forging.
Larry’s story is one of the many of those who are trying to piece their lives together in a difficult economy with the overlapping challenges of unemployment, addiction, and affordable housing shortages. Many city services vital to help people get back on track have been reduced or made unavailable altogether as a result of federal, state, and city budget cuts. For those whose challenges have frayed their lines of familial support, the integrated service-sites that address these compounded obstacles are more needed than ever.
Six months ago, Larry was sleeping in the bus terminal at night and making his way to the St. Anthony Dining Room in the day for what was often his only meal. A veteran of the hotel catering business, he had worked at the same hotel for ten years, beginning with waiting tables, and progressing to convention show management, planning, and setup. While his professional career flourished, his personal life became more challenging. As his 15 year relationship dissolved, he fell into a spiral of drinking binges and a deep depression. Soon he was unable to maintain employment, friendships, or hope.
The day he saw a sign at St. Anthony’s for a program that could help him with his drinking, he had a glimmer of hope. He enrolled in the Father Alfred Center for recovery from alcohol addiction, started volunteering in the Dining Room, and was able to contribute his hospitality industry experience to the St. Anthony Dining Room meal service. Six months later, he is ready to re-enter the job market.
“I immediately started feeling more like my own self, like I could do something. Sleeping at the bus station wasn’t OK, and I had something to offer.”
This is Larry’s second week in his job search after spending a month preparing resumes and honing his interview skills at the Employment Program and Technology Lab (a partnership with Network Ministries) and six months in St. Anthony’s Father Alfred Center drug and alcohol recovery program. While the Father Alfred Center helps men in recovery develop life and employment skills, at three times the drug and alcohol recovery success rate of other city recovery programs, available jobs in the San Francisco metroarea are down by 3,000 since last year. Unemployment in San Francisco is nearly double what it was in 2008 making the competition for jobs tighter than ever. While lining up the steps to regain employment, low- and no-income jobseekers have an additional obstacle: obtaining “hire me” clothes on a strict budget. With the help of the Clothing and Housewares Program Larry now has in his possession an interview outfit that will signal to a prospective employer his readiness to be a reliable, valued employee.
As he selects a camel-colored jacket and tan trousers, Larry reflects on the feeling of hope that he has for his job search. He eyes the subtle pattern in a dress shirt, pressing it against the jacket before folding a tie across the top of both.
“I’m really hopeful and encouraged with what I’ve seen so far. It’s only been a week, but right now I’m OK. I’m taking it slow, I’m out there every day, either online or knocking on doors or printing resumes.”