Triumphing Over Homeless and Addiction–With a Little Help

By United Way of King County, on July 26, 2022 | In Covid-19, Fighting Homelessness, Success Stories

Paul L. Smith lives in a Seattle apartment about 200 feet from a doorway he once slept in front of—a subtle yet poignant reminder of how far he’s come and where he never wants to return. The 67-year old’s story is one of the reasons there should be two variations of the Point in Time Count, an annual snapshot of people experiencing homelessness in a given evening.

We should keep counting those folks on our streets, yet we should also tally, and celebrate, the homeless who made it home–whether home is a former domicile or a four-walled new lease on life in an unfamiliar venue. They should be lauded for their efforts, particularly those like Smith, who escaped the clutches of homelessness’ grip and overcame countless setbacks afterward—some while battling the demons of addiction, the perils of depression and the derision of a public that doesn’t have a clue of the fortitude it takes to rise from such ashes.

When circumstances threatened to undo the years of hard work building stability in his life, Paul knew when it was time to look for support. He turned to organizations such as United Way of King County, even as his faith in service organizations waned. Today, he sings our praises like the Temptations. But like countless of others who have benefitted from our programs such as Home Base, Streets to Home and Basic Food, Smith deserves all credit for his turnaround tale.

“I’m not a religious person but I try to be a spiritual person; what I tell everybody is that I never realized that God was the only thing I needed until I realize that God was the only thing I had left,” said Smith. “If you are at that point where you just can’t go on anymore, ask for the courage to ask for help. Help is out there. Help is out there everywhere.

“No matter what, no matter how bad it’s gotten, no matter how far down you’ve gone, don’t ever quit trying,” Smith added. “You’re not a failure, you just haven’t succeeded yet. That’s the measure of true faith, that you never give up and you always give it that one more chance, one more try, one more attempt at changing your life. You can do it. I know you can. God knows, if I did it, anybody could.”

After several stints at overcoming his addiction–including one where he stayed 153 days in a 35-day treatment center–Smith has been clean and sober since 2015. He has enjoyed a rewarding career in the transportation industry. All was going well, he said, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“No matter what, no matter how bad it’s gotten, no matter how far down you’ve gone, don’t ever quit trying,” Smith added. “You’re not a failure, you just haven’t succeeded yet.

Paul L. Smith

A diabetic who also suffers from COPD and emphysema, Smith self-quarantined. As his truck driving duties decreased, so did his income. The pandemic forced Smith to leave his job, and 26 weeks passed before he received his first unemployment check. Loans from friends kept Smith in his home, but upon returning to work, Smith’s car suffered irreparable damage during last October’s bomb cyclone weather event. A gracious landlord allowed him to forego rent while he saved up for another car, but when time came to resume rental payment, Smith was five months in arrears and struggled to pay other bills.

Smith turned to a local nonprofit for rental assistance, but the nonprofit (which he chose not to name) botched his and other applications and eventually shut down. Smith was referred to United Way impact manager Wayne Wilson, who helped get Smith the relief he needed in 72 hours. With United Way’s assistance, Smith is able to pay his rent through June, and in July he became eligible for full Social Security benefits.

Today, he looks back on how far he’s come: Before finally defeating his addiction seven years ago, Smith spent 32 years trying. Twenty of those years were spent in 17 treatment centers. When he appeared to have triumphed over his addiction, a setback or tragedy proved overwhelming, and he’d slip back into the chasm again.

During his recent financial burden, Smith realized he had somewhere to turn for relief–and for that he’s grateful. “I was really concerned about losing my home when the eviction moratorium was lifted,” Smith said. “This situation has gone from me being placed in great financial burden, a lot of stress, worrying about the future, to knowing that I will be able to sustain myself financially.”

Today, Smith aims to help others to overcome addictions. He also works as a resident counselor aide at one of the same treatment centers that helped him find the road to recovery.

Paul L. Smith

“I never gave up. I do my best to work within the local community of recovery to do whatever I can to help others to find their way through their trial,” Smith said. “Sometimes I’m successful, perhaps by just saying one word that gives one person one more day of sobriety, and everything I do is worthwhile. I try to be the individual that my disease never allowed me to be. Somedays I succeed, and some days I don’t. I’m human just as anybody else. But I know I’ve been given a faith that will never waiver. No matter what I have to face, with help I can see my way through just about anything.”


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