Oliver Dean came to Maryland six years ago because he was seeking freedom in several areas of his life: freedom from the constant burden of financial pressure; freedom from an oppressive family situation; freedom from homelessness; and freedom from debilitating substance use disorder. This is his story – a story of how he found help 3,000 miles away from the place he had called home for his entire life.
Born and raised in Oakland, California, Oliver’s parents divorced when he was a youth. He and his younger brother lived with his mom until her sudden and tragic death in 2004. Although she has been gone for many years, losing her is still hard for Oliver. “Her death hit me hard,” he says quietly. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her.” He lived with his grandmother for a while, but within a few years, he and his little brother moved in with his dad.
He had never experimented with drugs or alcohol but his dad routinely smoked marijuana. After repeated attempts to persuade Oliver to join him, Oliver finally gave in and tried it. It proved to be the gateway to many other substance additions. To make matters worse, Oliver was suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness which was exacerbated by the drugs he was using. After years of living in fear of his dad’s verbal assaults and of repeated cycles of “meltdown and recovery,” Oliver bought two tickets out – one for his brother and one for himself. They arrived in Maryland with no belongings. Oliver had only $20 to his name.
Still not free from addiction and suffering from mental illness, he tried to keep a job but he could never manage to make it work. Eventually, his brother left him at an emergency room in Hagerstown. “He dropped me at the door and told me I was on my own,” recalls Oliver. But God was already preparing the next phase in his quest for freedom. Since he was now homeless, he asked the hospital where he might go for help. They directed him to the Frederick Rescue Mission.
“When I got to the Mission, I was just looking for a place. Where do I go? Who do I ask? I had nothing,” says Oliver. Adding to his anxiety was the fact that it was December and it was bitter cold outside. He was given blankets, warm clothes, toiletries, a hot meal, and he was able to connect with several other homeless men and women who were also getting help from the programs offered at the Mission. He is grateful for the friendships he has made. As he talks about these friends, you can see they are an obvious source of his joy.
“From the Mission, I got connected to the homeless shelter, Community Action, C.O.R.E., and the Way Station. I am now actually starting to put my life back together!” says Oliver, with a wide grin. He considers the Mission to be his “home base” and credits the help he found here with saving his life and giving him hope for a better future. Although he lives in a home in Brunswick, he travels to Frederick often to check in with his friends.
“The homeless community in Frederick is very tight-knit. I love coming into the Mission and seeing familiar faces. It gives me a strong sense of community,” he says. Adding, “My family is broken, but I have a family now in this community.” Oliver feels blessed by the care and help he has received. He says he is thankful for the friendly faces and kind words of the volunteers, the prayers he hears before lunch is served, and a growing relationship with God. “It all started here at the Mission. I now ask God to give me the strength I need and to guide me through each day.”
Oliver’s journey toward freedom is still a work in progress. Through the ministry he has received, the love of new friends, and the services he is now connected with, Oliver says, “I have now found joy in my journey. The world seems so big when you have so little. But now I feel I have so much.”