How Kenneth Overcame Homelessness, Addiction and 22 Years of Imprisonment

With each morning’s gentle awakening, Kenneth rises to greet the day, his ears attuned to the birds and their songs that fill the air. It serves as a stark contrast to his days when addiction and homelessness held him captive.

A shadowed past

The presence of an alcoholic father impacted Kenneth’s childhood, leading him to seek comfort in drugs and alcohol from an early age. When drugs infiltrated his community, Kenneth found himself entangled in their grip. This led to devastating consequences including more than 22 years in and out of prison and more than two of those years in solitary confinement.  

Upon Kenneth’s ultimate release from prison, he received a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is one of the most severe mental health conditions that affects how a person thinks, feels and behaves. It can cause symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions and disorganized thoughts.

Kenneth received appropriate medication after this diagnosis. This crucial intervention ultimately halted the recidivism that haunted him in the past.

A large barrier for Kenneth upon release from prison was securing housing. The absence of a safe and supportive living environment hinders the ability for individuals to integrate back into their communities and access essential resources for physical and mental health.

WellPower’s crisis intervention

Left with nowhere to live, Kenneth found himself unhoused. This was further complicated by having his right leg amputated and relying on a wheelchair. These circumstances added accessibility barriers, mobility challenges, safety risks and increased isolation. The harsh realities of Kenneth’s situation created conditions where he turned to drugs to cope.

At the end of his rope in despair, Kenneth told a police officer on Colfax Ave that he wanted to die by suicide. The police officer took him to WellPower’s Walk in Crisis Center (WIC) on East Colfax. The WIC is part of Colorado Crisis Services, a network of six walk-in crisis centers across metro Denver. These centers are open 24/7 and offer confidential, in person crisis support, information and referrals to anyone in need.

The WIC addressed Kenneth’s immediate needs and from there he was connected to the Behavioral Health Solutions Center. The Solutions Center is WellPower’s groundbreaking 24/7 program that provides stabilization, temporary housing and ongoing support in the same facility.

Accepting a new outlook on life

With the help of compassionate clinicians, Kenneth started to put pieces of his life back together. “I didn’t care about myself, but I could see that other people were concerned about me,” said Kenneth. “The staff at the Solutions Center wanted to do whatever I wanted to do; they wanted to help facilitate the next steps I was willing to take.”

Determined and resolute, Kenneth forged his path of recovery while he was at the Solutions Center. “I never felt like I deserved help,” Kenneth said. “There is so much stigma with mental health and addiction. But the staff at the Solutions Center really cared. They did not promise me a smooth ride, but they were a huge steppingstone to getting me where I am today.”

Kenneth also worked with a peer specialist while at the Solutions Center. A peer specialist is someone with lived experience and has been through situations like those they support. The peer specialist helped him apply to several programs including the Fort Lyon Supportive Residential Community. This program provides recovery-focused transitional housing for those who have experienced chronic homelessness. Kenneth was eager to apply and was accepted.

Life at Fort Lyon Supportive Residential Community

Kenneth has been at Fort Lyon for six months and has the option to stay up to two years. He works with a case manager, peer specialist and has education and vocational opportunities. He also attends Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings daily.

“When you are willing to receive support, it changes everything,” said Kenneth. “But my recovery is not based on me going to classes and meetings. I must maintain my sobriety and that means going to meetings when I don’t want to, taking care of my mental health, my physical health and having the faith that things will continue to get better.”

Kenneth and the more than 200 residents at Fort Lyon have access to 550 acres of land to walk or bike, a game room, creative/art center, library and communal room. There are also organized trips into town to buy food and essentials. Engaging in activities such as coloring and reading brings peace to Kenneth’s mind, helping him find his calm and focus.

“I have to take care of my mental health,” said Kenneth. “In my weakest moments my addiction will pop up and say that it can solve my problems, but I know it’s an escape. WellPower helped me break my destructive cycle. A staff member told me it was going to be alright and that is why I am here. I keep in touch with the staff at the Solutions Center because they saved my life.”

Embracing the next right step

Kenneth could leave Fort Lyon at any point but he chooses to stay, especially until he can secure housing. “I am going to stay in this program because I know how much work it took to get me here,” he said. “The WellPower staff saw me and gave me an opportunity to get clean. Today I am not going to use drugs and I am not going to worry about tomorrow.”

Despite life’s challenges Kenneth has embraced a mindset focused on the present, choosing not to dwell on his past but to seize the opportunities each day. “I don’t live in the past, I mainly focus on the present moment,” said Kenneth. “If I think about all the bad things I have done or been through, it doesn’t serve me right now as I am in a really good position at the moment thanks to WellPower.”