Mark W is a 33 year old from Alaska. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Mark also holds a B.S in Psychology from Alaska University, Anchorage.
In September of 2014, Mark arrived in San Francisco without family or a place to live. Lacking a support system, he sought help from San Francisco’s VA Downtown Clinic. The VA offered Mark a bed at one of the local shelters with the promise to help him find a pathway to housing.
But Mark found shelter life challenging, so two months later he transitioned from the shelter to The Salvation Army’s Railton Place.
Railton Place, a clean and sober living environment, is a 110 unit, transitional and permanent residence for homeless people. Twenty seven units are for young adults between the ages of 18–24 who have aged out of the foster care system. The remaining 83 units are available to chronically homeless adults and veterans.
Mark struggled at Railton Place for the first few months because he suffered from unresolved trauma and feelings of depression. Because of that, he isolated in his room.
He worked and he participated in case management as required, but he wasn’t open to sharing his future plans with anyone.
In March of 2015, Mark received word that the VA hospital could schedule him for the surgery he needed in April. The only hitch in the plan was that the VA didn’t offer him transportation to and from the hospital.
Mark found himself in the position of having to rely on the Railton Place staff to get him there and back.
This was Mark’s watershed moment: he needed to ask for help and accept it too.
After a successful surgery, Mark’s mobility was limited for four months. The injury and rehab also forced Mark to leave the job he was required to get to stay on at Railton Place.
Faced with limited mobility and a lack of income, the Railton Place staff rallied around him and helped him with food, gave him ideas about employment opportunities, and encouraged him to do his physical therapy.
By September of 2015, Mark finally seemed willing to accept suggestions and encouragement. So the Program Director at Railton Place connected him to Fitness SF — the CEO is a member of The Salvation Army’s advisory board — where he was hired as a Sales Associate.
Later that same month the staff suggested Mark apply for entry to NPower, a non-profit agency that offers computer network technology education for veterans of the U.S armed services. NPower is a 20 week program that includes 13 weeks of class-based training and 7 weeks of paid apprenticeship. Railton Place has an existing relationship with NPower and several members of the community have enrolled in the program in the past.
Mark was accepted into their January session. He now maintains a consistent work schedule at Fitness SF while attending classes five times a week for the NPower program in San Mateo.
On May 9, 2016, Mark accepted a 7-week paid internship in the IT departmet of one of the nation’s largest professional–temporary staffing agencies.
Even though Mark’s experience with the Railton Place staff helped him prepare for work, the true highlight of Mark’s transformation has been his ability to ask for assistance, accept encouragement, and trust that he was in a judgement-free environment.
His case management sessions were a necessary requirement to remain in the housing program at Railton Place but they also became a safe place for the fluid exchange of ideas and plans.
Fourteen months ago, Mark was stalemated by feelings of depression, in part because of worries about being judged, and because he judged himself.
Mark now has a handle on those feelings — not that they’re gone forever — and long-lasting change has begun.
Note: we have permission to use Mark’s story but not his photo so that’s not Mark in the featured photo.