Sarah’s father was a great man who was living the quintessential life everybody dreams of. He just had a hidden secret that eventually led to him becoming homeless and cost him his life.
He cared deeply and did everything he could for his family. His father was a pastor and he was one of six children growing up that had everything they needed to live a comfortable life.
Steve just had a battle he couldn’t overcome – alcoholism.
“He once quit smoking cold turkey and he had this mindset where he could do everything on his own,” said Sarah, who is also a shift lead with St. John’s Ministries. “Because of that, he said he didn’t need a sponsor or help. He would say he didn’t need any of it.”
Steve’s drinking started slowly and over the course of time got to a point where his wife and family couldn’t take care of him. They gave him an ultimatum of “get help or get out.” His drinking got so bad that he ended up in the hospital during Sarah’s wedding.
“It was not an easy decision for him to make, leave our family that is,” Sarah said. “My mom says looking back on it all, that even though it was difficult, she would marry him again and love him no differently.”
He did eventually go to rehab before relapsing several times over the next few years. Steve walked into the Jackie Nitschke Center for help and stayed a while before leaving and showing up on the doorstep at St. John’s seeking shelter.
During the years when Steve was on his own, he always stayed connected with his family and at times called Sarah for help. She did what she could and had to make difficult decisions, pleading with her father to get help.
Once the police called because he was living in his car in a Green Bay Walmart parking lot and gave the keys to Sarah. She didn’t know what to do because she had a family of her own, so she gave the keys to her priest.
“At the time that seemed like the best thing to do,” Sarah said thinking back on the moment. “There isn’t really the best thing to do, and I think we have learned that as a family when looking at alcoholism. A person really must want help. It took an emotional toll on me, being the one he would call in those difficult moments and having to make those decisions. There was never a good solution.”
Alcoholism eventually took Steve’s life in late 2016.
After a time of grieving for Sarah and her family, they knew God was taking care of his eternal life.
She decided not long after his passing that her career in childcare wasn’t working for her family, so she left and joined St. John’s as a seasonal support staff member.
“I joined St. John’s because I knew my dad had been here for a period and it just felt like a family. I wanted to care for those that had no other place to go,” Sarah said of her passion to help those who would otherwise be on the street if they weren’t at St. John’s.
It was after just one season she was promoted to a leadership position, overseeing other staff members during her shift.
“I have learned that many homeless individuals face a lot of barriers. They may have broken relationships, addiction to something, mental health issues or other barriers. When they show up at St. John’s we are giving them an opportunity to be supported and listened to. We have the recourses they need to get back to self-sufficiency.”
As Sarah works each shift to help the most vulnerable in our community, she thinks about her father from time to time and how he stayed at shelter.
“Recently, we were at the park feeding the ducks with my children and talking about my dad. We understand that while we don’t necessarily believe God causes bad things to happen to people, we are at peace. I think it is healthy to talk about him and all the good times we had. He was a good man and a great father.”