Participant to Board Member

keith-pic-1Once homeless, now a change leader: Keith

Keith has worked hard to overcome homelessness and addiction, and now he is working to improve the lives of others who are struggling to get on their feet.

Keith was raised on Chicago’s west side in the 1960s. The oldest of six, Keith had to take on responsibilities that many don’t face until much later in life. The red-lined neighborhoods on the west side provided few opportunities. Shell-shocked veterans were returning home from Vietnam, and heroin was everywhere. While his neighbors were finding escape through drugs, Keith had to find ways to make sure his family was eating.

“I had to do whatever I could to take care of the family. Stealing. Dealing. Whatever I had to do.”

But that lifestyle provided little for the soul. Addiction caused Keith’s life to spiral into a dark period that included prison. It also cost Keith his health. One day, Keith stumbled into the street and a flat-bed truck ran him over, crushing his pelvis and breaking his back. For years, he fought the pain with drugs and alcohol, even teaching himself to walk again just to get back to the life.

It wasn’t until Heartland Alliance showed up at his homeless shelter that the fog cleared. That simple meeting – a blood pressure reading, a few kind words, and real human interest – showed Keith that he was more than his addiction. He woke up to the idea that he deserved better, but to achieve that would require healing – and not just his bones.

“Change can be scary for a homeless person. I had gotten so used to being on my own. I had to learn how to have relationships again.”

Heartland Alliance connected Keith to doctors, housing, and case management. With a newfound hope, he began to attend a recovery program, found a church, and discovered that real growth came about only after he opened up to people and began to develop relationships – and found that he was really, really good at it.

“The people at Heartland Alliance got me on my feet, and I wanted to help others. All of my years homeless – I turned that energy and knowledge around to help the clinic.”

Keith began connecting with others in need, handing out flyers and starting conversations with homeless people all over the city. Keith’s calling soon became apparent to him. Keith has a powerful ability to build trust – and he has used his gift to help get people access to healthcare and save lives.

Heartland Alliance’s board of directors soon took notice – and asked him to join. Keith’s passion for helping others and his talent for building connections is now allowing him to influence real policies that affect thousands in the city – and Keith’s ability to connect will help us guide those policies.

“Outreach is about being in the right place. You know I’m going to be there. Building trust, building those relationships.”