We met Napolean Frazier at Guiding Light Mission in Grand Rapids on January 13, the coldest on record.
Frazier was one of the 135 men who had stayed at Guiding Light the night before. A 33-year-old unemployed computer systems engineer, he had moved to Grand Rapids from Muskegon hoping to find work in IT. He came very close.
“I actually did land a job, but the day before I was supposed to start, they retracted it. I was crushed,” he said.
Further complicating things, Frazier had his license suspended as a result of unpaid traffic fines. Without the ability to drive, it’s hard to hold a job, and without a job, it’s almost impossible to pay off those fines. “It’s a bad, self-perpetuating circle,” he said.
Frazier was at a low point. But a conversation with Guiding Light’s Back to Work Program director Matthew Holmes kept him going.
“I basically told him my story,” Holmes said. “I’ve got a master’s degree, but I lost my job, and I was out of work for 14 months.”
“I just said, ‘Hey, life is hard. As humans we plug through things. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t.’” But, Holmes told him, “‘Look, you’re a sharp guy. You’ve got skills.’”
With Holmes’ help, Frazier has done more than two dozen interviews in the two months he’s lived at Guiding Light. The staff follow up with him on all of them, and Frazier feels genuinely cared for.
“They get to know you as a person as opposed to just another number in a program,” Frazier said.
Along with shelter and job coaching, Guiding Light provides meals to all its residents, and Feeding America West Michigan supplies the organization with a large percentage of that food. Executive director Stuart Ray says nutrition is a crucial part of their programs.
“A third of the population in Heartside (the neighborhood in which Guiding Light is located) has undiagnosed cardiac and diabetes issues. So making sure everyone has an appropriate diet is the least we can do in that regard,” Ray said.
Guiding Light focuses on fresh produce and sets limits on sugar and fat. They don’t have a deep fryer.
Frazier gives the food high marks. “The food here is excellent. I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten, like, that Thanksgiving full, where you get done and you can’t help but go to sleep.”
Frazier’s goals are straightforward: start working again, pay off his fines, get his license back, find housing of his own, and regain his self-sufficiency. Guiding Light offers the safety, stability and encouragement needed to make that happen, and even though others might label him “homeless,” he doesn’t see it that way.
“Homeless are people who sleep in doorways,” Frazier said. “I have a home. All my current possessions are here. There are people who care about me. It’s home.”