There was a time when Danny didn’t concern himself with window smudges. When you’re homeless, there are generally more pressing issues – like food, shelter and avoiding the kind of frostbite that can put your fingers in jeopardy.
On a frosty day in downtown Spokane this month, Danny shuffled around his cozy apartment on Second Avenue with window cleaner he’d bought from the Dollar Store. The mission was to make sure the glass letting in winter sunlight sparkled with the same gleam that has been on Danny’s face since he established a new address earlier this year.
“I’m not even sure the windows needed it,” Danny said. “I just want my place to be really clean. I want it to reflect on me.”
For close to a decade, Danny’s home was the street. Once gainfully employed in the auto repair business, Danny experienced a series of losses that sent his career and life for a troubling spiral. Alcohol numbed the pain in the short-term but sabotaged his chances to get back on a stable track.
“It all just added up without me really being aware of it,” he said. “I was drinking but the problems still existed.”
With a degree in auto repair and refinishing from Spokane Community College, Danny was familiar with what it took to achieve self-reliance. His days as a successful middle school and high school athlete had taught him the value of a strong work ethic, teamwork and commitment. At one point, Danny played in the same starting infield with Ryne Sandberg who would go on to a Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Cubs after graduating from North Central High School.
“Those were fun days,” Danny said.
After several key friends and family member passed away, Danny struggled to cope.
“As time went on, it seemed that the losses accumulated,” he said.
Re-establishing a nurturing support network took time. One of the strands in the new safety net was Shawna Sampson who oversees SNAP’s Homeless Services program. Danny would often hang out in an alley not far from Shawna’s home. She would bring him coffee and talk.
“I didn’t really bring SNAP into it at first,” Shawna recalls. “I just wanted to establish trust. I could see he was down on his luck and I wanted to help him.”
It’s been almost three years since Shawna first met Danny. A year ago, he began staying at the Union Gospel Mission shelter, a refuge that requires residents to remain clean and sober.
“I just got tired of drinking beer all day,” Danny said. “I knew I needed to make a change. I finally came to realize that I needed help. I wanted to get clean and seek a future. I had to reach out and really concentrate about getting out of the position I was in.”
Shawna remembers a positive transition happening as Danny took initiative.
“I came along at the right time,” she said. “I just tried to provide him with some hope that things could change.”
In addition to UGM, the road back for Danny was paved with support from Alcoholics Anonymous, friends, family and a Bible study group. Over time, the darkness was replaced by sunlight.
“You can’t do it alone,” Danny said. “You need people there to help you. For me, a big part of getting that happiness is just being grateful. Then you gain faith from that and continue to believe that the happiness is not going to go away.”
When it became clear earlier this year that Danny would receive one of the slots at a new subsidized apartment complex built through a partnership between Volunteers of America and Catholic Charities, Shawna said Danny responded “like he’d won the lottery.”
“I’m really happy for him,” Shawna said. “He’s really grateful about the whole thing.”
Danny was able to move into his one-bedroom apartment at the end of July. While the space may seem humble to some, the new tenant says he “feels like a millionaire.”
“It means everything in the world for me to be here right now,” he said.
Last month, Danny received some more good news. He was chosen as one of the recipients of Umpqua Bank’s “Wish Upon a Star” program which bestows gifts to worthy residents nominated by local nonprofits. In Danny’s case, Umpqua delivered furniture, kitchenware and other household goods to add warmth and nourishment to an apartment that previously had little more than a lawn chair.
“I think it made his place feel more like a home,” said Lynn Strong, one of three Umpqua employees who delivered the items. “This program is all about making a difference for the people we select. For Danny, we wanted to improve his life and make sure he realizes he’s a worthwhile individual. It’s very rewarding.”
Danny said he was astounded at the generosity from Umpqua and tickled with the way his apartment has been transformed.
“I’m just really thankful,” he said. “It was pretty incredible.”
Now, Danny is trying to pay it forward by encouraging others who may be in the same shoes he was a few short years ago.
“I try to talk to people and say “hi,” he said. “I’m putting an effort into being positive – that’s what rehabilitation is all about. A friend of mine told me to look at the good things in life and that’s what I decided to do.”