For Michael, a 54-year-old transplant from Florida, the snowy winters of Northern Colorado were an agonizing adjustment—especially the winters when he didn’t have a home.
“Snow and cold were just four-letter words to me before,” Michael said.
On a frigid night in October 2019, Desiree Anthony, emergency services and community outreach coordinator at Fort Collins Rescue Mission, saw Michael trudging through the snow with his walker to attend the Mission’s chapel service. She couldn’t help but notice his desperate need for help.
“I made note of him and talked to him after [the service],” Desiree said. “He just captured my heart from the beginning. He was super jazzed to listen to God’s word.”
Michael started telling Desiree his story—the reason he was paralyzed; the cause of his traumatic brain injury.
The accident happened in Port St. Lucie, Florida in 1997. Michael was on his way to play golf—an outlet from his nine-to-five job at his father-in-law’s insurance agency—when a woman in the car behind him lapsed into a diabetic coma and rear-ended his car. He totaled the truck in front of him and hit his head, hard.
After 12 hours of brain surgery and a month in a coma, Michael miraculously survived, but his entire world soon turned upside down. He and his wife got a divorce and he wasn’t able to work, so he depended on disability income insurance and was forced to sell his house. Then, he moved to Colorado in 2004.
The next 15 years marked a volatile season For Michael. “I was living in an RV with no heat,” he said.”[My landlord] wasn’t making enough out of me so he kicked me out. He called me and said, ‘Get out! Get out of my place!’, and he dropped me off at [the Mission].”
Soon after his arrival, Desiree started working with Michael to restore the pieces of his life that were drastically affected by the accident and its aftermath. She took him to the DMV to get his ID and Social Security card, and she helped him apply for ADA accessible housing.
To Desiree and Michael’s relief, he was chosen for a Non-Elderly Disabled Voucher, which requires him to pay only 30 percent of his income on rent.
Desiree helped Michael move to his new home in Fort Collins in October 2020, but her support and persistence didn’t end there. She worked with Michael’s Medicaid care coordinator to ensure that he receives the best possible care and hired a housekeeper to clean and buy groceries. She helped him get living room furniture and a television and connected him to the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to eventually get trained for a job.
“Most people who find themselves on the street are lacking not just in housing, but in life skills, community and support,” she said. “You really have to make sure that they’re set up for the long haul.”
Michael has made a choice to walk by faith and maintain a positive mindset in the midst of his physical and mental struggles.
“The downward spiral of negative thinking has no bottom,” he said. “It’s kind of like a needle in a haystack. You have to concentrate on that one little needle of positivity for your own victories.”
And Michael has had many victories. After decades of using only a wheelchair, he taught himself how to use a walker. “He’s really an impressive human being,” Desiree said. “I saw him pushing himself to walk. His will to live though everything he’s been through and his faith in God were significant contributors.”
Michael now feels fully settled in to his apartment, just in time for the holidays. To him, one of the best parts about having a home is that he knows his belongings are safe. “When every piece of clothing I had used to be hanging on my walker,” Michael said, “having a place is everything.”