“To tell you the truth , If I was given a thousand years... I could never had imagined the state that I would end up in”.
If you met Hilton today, you would have never guessed that he used to be homeless. He’s well dressed. intelligent and articulate. He speaks with a calm and reassuring voice.
Yet, it was not long ago that he was deeply entrenched in crisis.
Like many people who become homeless, Hilton had no idea of the mess he was in until it was far too late. He grew up middle class. Education and the Lord were held at high esteem. With 6 brothers and 1 sister, money was occasionally tight for the family- but nobody ever went hungry. Overall, things seemed promising.
Hilton had dreams. He wanted to get a culinary degree and work a management position in the hospitality industry.
He decided he would get some experience first, and dove right in. True to his namesake, he started working at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.
Hilton loved it. The food. The decor and atmosphere. The pace of life. The people you met.
He felt like he had found his calling in life. It all felt so right. And most of it was. But some of it wasn’t.
There were a certain group of people in the 80’s who looked like they had it all, and that was the drug dealers.The crack/cocaine epidemic was in full swing, and there were boatloads of cash to be made. The more Hilton got mixed in with the lifestyle, the more he was tempted by it.
The fancy cars. The flashy outfits. The girls.
Everything that came with selling coke seemed to come so effortlessly.
Why was he working his fingers to the bone while his friends made thousands of dollars in a single transaction?
He decided he wasn’t going to get left behind in the fast path to riches. Having connections in the game, getting started selling was easy enough.
But while dealing was cool- Hilton was also keen to experience his own product. After all,
there MUST have been a reason why everyone kept yammering on about it.
“If someone told you that they tried it and didn’t like it, believe me, they’re lying.”
Hilton worked at the Palmer House Hilton for 13 years, and during that span of time, he watched the lives of his drug dealing friends fade away. They started using more than they sold. They got thrown in jail. They lost everything.
Hilton saw it all, but we always imagine that the worst case scenario is something that only happens to other people.
The problem is, to everyone else, we’re “the other people”.
Over this time period, Hilton had grown up. He had kids and a wife. But he was also still married to his drug habit. It would eventually turn his life upside down.
When his wife left him and took the kids, he realized that he had an addiction. But it was too late, and things were spiraling out of control. He could not believe that he had let down everyone is his life who mattered to him.
The reality shattered him. His drug use became heavier, and he moved onto heroin. Eventually, he lost his job and everything that he had. From 2011- 2015, he found himself chronically homeless. He slept on benches, trains, and wherever he could rest his head. Occasionally he would find himself at Chicago homeless shelters, but he always fell back into his old drug habits.
“It’s force that completely grabs hold of you, taking over your mind, body, soul, and entire being”
One day, Hilton overdosed and ended up in a hospital in Lake County. And while that day may have felt like one step closer to hopelessness, nothing could be further from the truth.
It was because of the location, that he was transported to PADS Lake County, where he was immediately given food, shelter, and peace of mind. Afterwards, he was introduced to his caseworker Sara. She immediately knew that if she was going to get him on a different path- he needed housing.
Specifically, housing in a place where the temptation to fall back into old habits would not be as strong. As Hilton recalls, his neighborhood in Chicago was the last place a recovering drug addict should have lived.
“It wasn’t just your neighbors doing drugs, it was the whole COMMUNITY! Everyone from Big Mama to Little June was doing dope”.
Hilton was doubtful that he could receive housing- after all, most people who sign up for permanent supportive housing get added to a waiting list 3-4 years long before they are even considered!
But low and behold, Sara and PADS made it happen. Hilton is now living in Lake County, and is celebrating 3 years sober soon. While he still considers himself in recovery, Hilton has made incredible strides. He now plays the drums for local church worship services in the area, and is deeply involved in his own church and community.
Hilton is currently in the process of reconnecting with his family. He has aspirations to one day be a small business owner, and own his own house.
“I consider this a stepping stone”.
Whatever the future holds for Hilton, one thing is for sure. Lake County is lucky to have him. Because when you run into Hilton, you immediately get a sense of his newfound hope and positivity. Your day becomes a good one by default. And it’s for that reason it’s so important that we as a community support our homeless population.
Because they’re our neighbors. Because they matter.
And because if we ever found ourselves in the same situation- we would hope someone had our backs too.