'You see success stories everyday': Hard work pays dividends at Milwaukee Rescue Mission
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee, like many big cities, has a homeless problem. A meal and a bed to sleep in have saved lives, thanks to the generosity of social services. But one program's reaching beyond those immediate needs. People who find it are finding their way back on their own two feet, lowering Milwaukee's homeless population one man at a time.
"I grew up in Marche, Arkansas, in a little town, population about 32 hundred," said Malcolm Williams, graduate of the New Journey Transitions Program.
But Malcolm Williams had family in Milwaukee.
"My mother moved down south to raise me because she figured I'd, she wanted to raise me down south to get more respect and not in a city setting," said Williams.
The two were close. So sad days arrived in 2014 when Williams' mother died.
"I had no hope. I was contemplating suicide, come to find out I was in a deep depression and didn't know it," said Williams.
An addiction to cocaine and alcohol spiraled and he was living on the streets.
"So, I was just coming here for the meals at the time and then the New Journey recruiter by the name of James Griffin took me on a tour," said Williams.
The homeless shelter at the Milwaukee Rescue Mission, where Williams was staying, was now also offering him a chance to get sober. This year, happy days are ahead for Greg Neu who oversees the New Journey Program. He says 30 men will graduate.
"All of those men came to us broken and initially a number of them really pushed back. They didn't want help. I would say over 90 percent of men on the New Journey Program come through our front doors homeless," said Greg Neu, Director of Safe Harbor at the Milwaukee Rescue Mission.
About 2,000 men, women and children enter the Milwaukee Rescue Mission every year looking for a place to sleep and a meal to eat. Of those 2 thousand about 130 men will say yes to the New Journey program.
It's a six-month program with no out of pocket expense, helping men conquer a substance use disorder.
"You see success stories every day. That's one thing that keeps all of us going is we really see the fruit of our labor," said Neu.
And it's all paid for by donors who support the 130-year-old Milwaukee rescue mission.
"They can come here, all their needs are met: food, clothing and shelter at no cost to them for up to 12 months and that way they can, that eliminates a huge stress. And then they can just really focus on their recovery and rebuilding some of those relationships they've broken maybe with family, friends," said Neu.
The rebuild starts here. At the front of this classroom, Jonathan Mosier's lecturing on life skills.
"All those stress hormones start kicking in: worry, anxiety, fear, if I lose this job, how am I gonna pay my rent, if I can't pay my rent, I'm gonna lose my place," said Mosier.
There are recovery skills classes, small groups to engage and one on one time with mentors like James Griffith who once sat in these student seats.
I grew up in a single-family home, right? And I made decisions that led me to addiction. And something dawned on me like God was telling me, you know what, you come down here every day, you ask me to give you back your wife and your kids, but the reality is you don't deserve your wife or your kids back. You was a horrible father and you were a worse husband," said James Griffith.
"What happens over time is we build trust with men who have a really difficult time trusting people -09 and that's why we can see some of the success we do in our programming," said Neu.
"When you're trying to feed yourself, when you're trying to clothe yourself, when you're trying to make sure that you have just basic necessities, it's easy not to focus on stuff like that," said Samuel Watkins, graduate of the New Journey Program.
Samuel watkins came to the mission from green bay last year, looking for a job, but he wasn't accepted.
"You have to do a drug test before you can get in it, and unfortunately due to poor choices, I failed it," said Watkins.
With no where to go, watkins extended his stay here.
"Due to bad choices I had kind of burnt a lot of bridges, so family wasn't an option for me," said Watkins.
Those few days at the mission allowed watkins time to look around.
"I got to see the guys that were going to church and working in the kitchen and they were all New Journey men and I seen the way they carried themselves. I seen the pride that they had. I seen the fellowship with one another," said Watkins.
"We've had 21 men who have been sober living on their own, maintaining a liveable wage job for over two years, so I'm really excited about that," said Neu.
"I had got showed courtesy when I felt like I didn't deserve it you know I had -40, you know guys would ask me how my day was going, you know calling me sir, things like that mattered especially when you're at your worst," said Watkins.
"As staff continues to love them, care for them, walk with them, encourage them, when they make that decision to engage with life transformation, it's just, yea, it's amazing," said Neu.
"So actually coming here and failing that drug test was the best thing that could happen to me," said Watkins.
Watkins graduated from the new journey program. So did malcolm williams. Two men, formerly homeless, who wrestled with life controlling addictions, now experiencing what it feels like to be free.
"You know I was hard headed. I was influenced by the things that I saw in the streets and so school really wasn't my strong point. The odds would be very high that I would either be out there still, in prison, or six feet under. I just want to thank the donors. I want to thank everybody that has anything to do with the Milwaukee Rescue Mission whether it's on the men's side or the women's side. The programs are phenomenal," said Watkins.
Despite the success stories, there's heart break too. Greg Neu points to the fentanyl epidemic that's also touched the homeless population he's known here.
"Fentanyl is killing people. We didn't see it initially, but the last three years we've seen a huge increase in the number of fentanyl deaths. But it's difficult, anytime you hear of that happening, it can crush you," said Neu.
The new journey program runs for six months. Graduates can the stay another six months as part of a transitional services program.
"We've had 21 men who have been sober living on their own, maintaining a liveable wage job for over two years, so I'm really excited about that. When a man comes here, we don't want him to remain homeless. Obviously that's a decision he has to make, but we provide ample opportunity for him to turn his life around through the programs we provide here and that's what we really want to do," said Neu.
We asked Malcolm what do you think your mama would say if she saw you today?
"She would be proud of me. She always kind of knew I had it in me even though I wasn't doing it. She said you could be anything you want to be in life but you chose to be a drug dealer and in the streets and so she'd be proud I'm doing this. I think she'd be most proud that I have a relationship with the Lord," said Williams.