“I’m gonna die out here,” Lorenzo predicted.

That single dejected sentence, muttered in September 2019, changed his life. It’s when Lorenzo, then 30, returned to The Union Mission.

Life had never been easy for Lorenzo. The youngest of eight children, his father was a Marine who lived out of state. His mother in Portsmouth raised him and his siblings to be a God-fearing family, focused on faith and the Bible. He was a well-behaved, reserved child, no drugs, no alcohol, responsible and polite, but Lorenzo sometimes still felt the difficult dynamics of a large, broken family.

Plus, he was born with ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that inflames the joints and ligaments of the spine. Growing up, it limited his mobility and his confidence. He could not play sports, but enjoyed playing the drums in the Churchland High School band. But the unsteady wobble in his walk and his occasional nervous stutter made Lorenzo the target of countless bullies. No matter how much his family told him to do the best he could and not to let it bother him, the trauma of ridicule and being different left their emotional and psychological marks.

After graduation, he worked in fast food and took his basic classes at Tidewater Community College for two years, but didn’t complete a degree. “I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life yet.”

In his mid-20s, his four years at the Norfolk shipyards “were like five jobs,” all hard on his body. He never knew when the work would end for a few months, and unemployment didn’t pay much. Then, in 2016 he found the steady job he still loves at a business that manufactures polymer insulators. “I’m a good hard worker, and it’s ‘essential’ work, so I don’t have to worry about layoffs.”

Though the work suited him well, Lorenzo longed to live as a responsible adult, and living with family made that more and more difficult. “I just wanted to better my life as a grown person,” but the high costs of rent and utilities were too much for him to cover on his own.

A friend of his had once found help at The Union Mission. Lorenzo hoped he could do the same. He arrived at the Bashford Men’s Shelter in July 2018. “I was kind of hesitant to do it at first. I was young and people didn’t understand why I would do that. But they took me in, and I don’t mind following the rules….”

“I felt like I was in a safe place right here.”

The case managers took an instant liking to gentle Lorenzo, encouraging him, praying with him, and offering resources that would assist him. Almost immediately he began to work with our Wellness Team to address his physical health. After eight months of worsening pain in his right hip as the cartilage broke down and his bones began to rub together, Lorenzo had surgery on his right hip. “Now it’s perfect—no pain—I just gotta be careful what I lift.”

Lorenzo, always careful with his money, loved the savings plan that enabled him to put away half of each paycheck for his future. He just thought his future should arrive sooner than it did.

By the following May, Lorenzo thought he was ready to try living on his own, even though the Mission staff encouraged him to stay longer. Since living with family was not an option, he moved in with some so-called “friends,” but the house was crowded and disorderly. “It wasn’t a good environment for me. I like peace and quiet and no drama.” In addition, Lorenzo tired of roommates who took advantage of his kindness—and his savings. “I like to help and put others above myself. Sometimes that’s a detriment.”

“Living with other people is just not for me,” but “I didn’t have enough money to live alone.” Lorenzo bounced from hotel to hotel, “but that’s a lot of money, too!” After a few weeks, he started sleeping in his car, but it wasn’t always easy to find a safe place to park. Embarrassed and depressed, “I wouldn’t tell nobody at work what I was going through. People like to judge, so I was just doing what I had to do to try to make it.”

Eventually, Lorenzo began to return to The Union Mission parking lots after hours. Even in his 2004 junkyard Dodge Stratus, he felt safe here. And even if he was no longer a shelter guest, he could use the Day Center to get a hot shower and a free meal.

One September day, the Mission staff discovered that Lorenzo had been living in his car on campus and asked him what he was doing here. “I was full-on down on myself and discouraged.” As he uttered his fear of dying homeless and alone, the desperation in his voice indicated a young man in real need. Following the leading of the Holy Spirit, the shelter leadership forgave Lorenzo his trespassing and readmitted him to the Men’s Shelter.

 “It really don’t hit you until you’re down and out. Then you find out who really is there for you…who will help you and who won’t. That’s why I consider this like a family, like a home for me!”

First as part of the Mission’s David Development Program for young men, and then in the RECLAIM transitional program, Lorenzo began to thrive. He completed a class on Mastering Your Money and worked hard to rebuild the savings account that his roommates had helped to deplete. “I have been trying to connect,” and in RECLAIM Lorenzo “met a lot of good people and made some great friends.” He’s enjoyed being part of a community of trustworthy men who encourage each other. They “get a second chance at life together and a better opportunity.”

Likewise, the staff are ready to help with any need. “I try not to be a burden to anyone, and Rev. Evans always just says, ‘I’m here for you!’” Lorenzo especially appreciates the genuine care, prayer, and spiritual support. “The staff, all the people here have been really good…

“Because it’s a Christian-based shelter, they teach me to be closer to God.”

“They really care about me and want better for me, and I want better for myself, too. I just want to make sure I take the right steps in the right direction. I love this place. It’s like rehab for the whole person. It’s been a blessing!”

Lorenzo sees God’s providence in his life. “If I had not come back to The Union Mission, I’d be out there lost again, trying to make ends meet. I can really say that.” In addition to building his faith, he also rediscovered hope. Being in a homeless shelter, “it’s not the end of the world.

This is not the end. God has something better for me!”

As a great candidate for Norfolk’s Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program, Lorenzo was not on the waiting list for long before being approved for a subsidized apartment. He was “kinda nervous” about independent living, “but everyone kept telling me that I was going to be okay.”

“I didn’t want to leave, but I really didn’t want to miss this opportunity. Now I’m just trying to spread my wings. I already have a good, stable job and everything. Now I’ve got to focus on my life.”

During his last day at the shelter last April, Lorenzo, 34, was pensive and more quiet than usual. He sat in Mr. Marshall’s office, head down, quietly saying “Thank You! Thank you!” as he prepared to leave.

Rev. Crawley asked, “Do you want us to bring cups and paper plates over for your move-in party?” As Lorenzo chuckled appreciatively, Mr. Marshall gestured to a large plastic tub and said, “Wait a minute—you already have plates, Lorenzo!”

Lorenzo looked behind him and saw the donated Home Tote on the office floor. As the lid came off, he asked, “Those are for ME?” Lorenzo broke into sobs, raised his hands, and loudly exclaimed, over and over, “Thank You, Jesus! THANK YOU, LORD!”

“It was a really big storage bin, and it was full of all sorts of stuff I needed!”

“It contained plates, silverware, soap, a shower curtain, kitchen utensils, you name it! Wow, yeah, I was emotional about that!” Lorenzo also left with the staff’s affirmation and assurance that he will never be alone. He will always have a home with God.

After a few months in his own apartment, Lorenzo is effusive about living on his own. “This is the first time I’ve had a place to myself. It’s got one bedroom and one bathroom and a kitchen! Now I can cook again! It’s been so long! And it looks so nice: gray walls with white trim and hardwood floors. It’s near the airport and close to work. It’s a safe and quiet neighborhood. I love it!”

Now Lorenzo is working on getting more furniture and growing his plans for the years ahead. “I want a one-story house. That’s my dream home—and a family, a wife and kids, and a good car, too. I’m really trying to be serious and work hard for my future.”

But Lorenzo also makes it a point to take a moment to look back at his past. “I make sure every day to let the Lord know how grateful and thankful I am for The Union Mission.”

Packing a Home Tote is a great volunteer project to help our guests as they move into housing for good. For more information and a handy Home Tote shopping / packing list, see our Collection Drives page, or contact our Volunteer Engagement Coordinator at volunteer@ummnorva.org.

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