People never start out thinking “I’m going to be a drug addict”. We don’t look at newborn babies and squeal with joy, “Oh, she’s gonna be so homeless someday”. Babies are born with such potential, and such hope for bright and successful futures. It is the events and decisions of our lives that mold the people we grow up to be.
Looking at Teresa today, the day of her graduation from Bible College, you would never see the scars of her past. Her face radiates the love of Jesus and her smile tells of the joy she now shares with everyone she comes into contact with. She is a new woman, and she is on a mission but it wasn’t always this way.
Over seven years ago, Teresa came to Shepherd’s Gate. She was homeless, and had lived on the streets of Berkeley on and off for three years. She was a drug addict, and had been for the last 20 years of her life. She was at her end, she trusted no one, and had no hope.
Teresa’s story starts out in Columbus, Ohio. She is the oldest of 3 siblings, 2 brothers and 1 sister. Her life takes a turn when, at the age of four, her and her siblings are put into the foster care system. The first foster home they suffer tremendous abuse both mental and physical. They are in this home for five years until at last they are transferred to another foster family who takes good care of them.
Teresa lives with this family until she graduates from high school. Amazingly, through all the turmoil, Teresa was able to do very well throughout school, and upon graduating from high school she received a scholarship from Bowling Green State University.
She majored in Public Relations and Journalism, and in August of 1976, she graduated with her Bachelor’s degree. Life was full of possibilities, and began to speed up after college, as she began a relationship with a professional athlete and spent the next six years of her life flying around the country with him.
It was during this relationship, she first started using drugs. It was after the breakup of this relationship, she became addicted. It was an addiction that would haunt her for the next 20 years of her life.
“I was a highly functional addict for many years. I worked for the welfare department in Ohio, and when I moved out to California, I took a job as a secretary for the president of an aerospace company. Both of these jobs paid well, and I kept them for many years while still abusing drugs”.
Maintaining became harder and harder for Teresa. She lost her job, and began a spiral that would end up on the streets of Berkeley where this college graduate would find herself sleeping in doorways and begging for money. It was here though, that she met an advocate for the homeless who directed her to Shepherd’s Gate.
“She paid my way on the BART and gave me money for the bus and when I arrived at Shepherd’s Gate I had exactly $1.25 in my pocket”.
Teresa arrived on the front porch of Shepherd’s Gate, and knew she was home!
“You just KNOW when you’re home and that’s how I felt, like I was coming back home. The most amazing thing to me was I felt loved for the first time in my life, this deep, non-judgmental, profound kind of love!”.
“I received beautiful clothing to wear, that people had donated. I was able to eat good, hot food until I was full, and I felt safe, and after awhile, I was able to trust people again”.
After Teresa graduated from Shepherd’s Gate’s Long-Term Program she went on to Bible College, where she graduated on June 13, 2004. She has her own apartment, works with the Oakland Police Department ministering in the jail there, and also serves hot meals to the homeless of San Francisco with City Ministries.
She will be attending San Francisco City College to become a community health worker, and an advocate for the poor. Her ultimate goal is to travel to under developed countries, and help in the areas of health and education. She is a woman on a mission and she is far from finished.
The next time you run into a homeless person on the street think of Teresa who took some wrong turns but is now fulfilling the purpose she was created for. Give them a hug, you never know it may change their whole life!