Harvest House is a nonprofit supportive housing provider with eight campuses, 25 affordable rentals, and 380 beds throughout Sarasota and Manatee counties. Harvest House serves homeless families, youths ages 16-24, and adults with a history of incarceration and substance abuse issues. The organization works to break the generational cycle of homelessness and trauma by providing personal development workshops and mental health services. Visit harvesthousecenters.org.
When David arrived at Harvest House, he had hit rock bottom. Facing major prison time due to his long history with substance abuse and mental illness, this was his last chance to make his life right. He did that by telling himself that no matter what, he was not going to use any mind-altering substances again.
Having grown up in Brooklyn, NY, David recalled always trying to fit in, however he never felt like he belonged. “I grew up with a lot of chaos at home. At an early age I adapted a distorted definition of love because of my father’s abuse. At the age of 18, with dreams of finding freedom in California, David joined the Navy. He was young and impressionable, so he succumbed to peer pressure and started to drink.
During his service, David was hit by a drunk driver in a serious, life-threatening accident that left him in a coma for a month and in the hospital for one year. He lost a kidney, had a tear in his heart, suffered a skull fracture, and broke his hand, hip, and collarbone. “I was in excruciating pain, so I had access to hundreds of pain pills with absolutely no oversight. When I got out of the service, I tried so hard to stop taking the pain meds, but I couldn’t.”
After his honorable discharge at age 22, David had no direction, and his drinking and drug use led to serious legal problems. A judge recommended he seek help. At the age of 30, David got sober and stayed that way for 13 years. He met and married the love of his life, started a successful home-improvement business, and had a stable home life. Then, one day he walked into a hotel room where people were doing the exact thing he didn’t want to do, and the vicious cycle started again.
He spent the next 14 years abusing drugs and alcohol. This time, he was a functional user. His business and home life were thriving and he was financially successful. Over time, though, he began a slow decline. “Instead of using after a long day of work, I found myself using drugs in the morning and then throughout the day.” Three years ago, things took a turn for the worse. He found himself homeless, divorced, and bankrupt. One night, he decided to drive home after drinking. The police tried to pull him over but he decided to run. After a police chase, David found himself facing serious jail time.
David was sentenced to Harvest House in lieu of jail time. After 13 months at Harvest House, David now lives in his own home and has a promising career at Publix Supermarkets. “Over the years, I’ve learned that there’s a difference between fitting in and belonging. At Harvest House, I belong. At work, I belong. At church, I belong. I don’t try to fit in anymore. I’m myself.” David believes that in order to keep what he has, he has to give it away. He hosts weekly 12-step meetings, and he’s created “No Matter What” bracelets to spread his message to everyone he meets. “Nothing in my life is going to get better by using, so I’m a member of the No Matter What club. I do something for my recovery every day. I start my day in prayer. I help someone every day. I’m thankful every day.”
Amina, 28, came to Florida from Morocco in 2015 with her husband, two sons, and daughter. Her eldest son was diagnosed with cancer, so they planned on being in Tampa temporarily so he could receive top-quality care from Moffitt Cancer Center. It wasn’t exactly a vacation, though. Over the next few years, there were many domestic violence incidents in the home, so many that a charge was eventually filed requiring her husband to return to Morocco. He took their young daughter with him but left the two boys with Amina so the eldest son could complete his treatment. The boys were 17 and 10 at that time.
Amina never learned to read or write, and her English-speaking skills were limited. Despite the language barriers, she worked hard doing various cleaning jobs, trying to keep her family afloat. They were living out of motels, staying at shelters in multiple cities, and participating in various temporary housing programs throughout the area. They eventually found Harvest House when they ran out of money, and a local motel owner gave them the number for the shelter.
At the time that we at Harvest House met this family, they reported being homeless for three years. We served them at the Family Haven emergency shelter for two weeks, in Family Haven transitional housing for 2 ½ months, and then with Home Again permanent supportive housing for another 2 ½ years.
Fast forward to 2020: Amina started receiving professional counseling services and the appropriate mental care to assist her in daily functioning. She also bought a vehicle that is properly tagged and insured, and paid off thousands of dollars of debt so that she is currently debt-free! The eldest son finished his final checks with the doctors in Tampa and is cancer-free. He also completed a course in IT at CareerSource and received his certificate. The youngest son just graduated from high school this summer and is enrolled at the University of South Florida.
According to Harvest House, it was hard to build a rapport with Amina at first. She was soft-spoken and unsure of herself, she kept her head down in classes and appointments, and it seemed as if they would never be able to connect with her. She relied heavily on her sons to translate for her and speak on her behalf. Over time, staff was able to earn her trust, and her Home Again neighbors helped make the family feel at home. After about nine months, staff noticed that she was feeling more confident and outspoken in case management meetings and she was participating more in classes, even laughing and joking with everyone. Her sons made friends in school, participated in extracurricular clubs and sports, and also started to see a different future for themselves.
Like so many others, Amina found Harvest House at one of the lowest points in her life. She was facing many barriers, including undiagnosed mental illnesses and chronic feelings of hopelessness. These were compounded with the struggles of coming to a new country, not speaking the language in a brand-new world, and missing her daughter, family, and home terribly. It took almost three years to help get her family back on track but their experiences here have had a lifetime’s worth of impact, for generations to come.
DeeDee faced many adverse childhood experiences and by the age of 20, she found herself incarcerated. Upon completing her sentence, she was just 21 years old with nowhere to go. After three months in Harvest House’s short-term transitional program for young adults, DeeDee moved into its New Heights supportive housing program. With a team behind her, she was able to access mental health services, return to school, and increase her income. She enrolled in the State College of Florida’s nursing program and secured a job as a personal care attendant.
“My experience with Harvest House has been life-changing. For the first time, I had a home to call my own. I can maintain a stable schedule at work, school, and socially. If it wasn’t for the commitment and patience of the Harvest House community, I wouldn’t have been able to make it. My appreciation and gratitude towards this program and the dedicated people who work there will forever be in my heart.”
A year and a half later, DeeDee is a straight-A student, a budding artist, and a stellar employee at her job. She has also moved into her own apartment. A donor recently heard of her accomplishments and doubled her savings! For the first time in her life, DeeDee had her own room while in the New Heights program. She couldn’t wait to decorate it with lights and canvases she had painted at our Youth Drop-In Center. You can tell that she took pride in her space, and that it reflected the newfound peace in her life.
To be a place of powerful transformation for DeeDee and others, Harvest House intentionally creates spaces of love and belonging, practices grace and patience, and models compassion and forgiveness. They utilize the principles of trauma informed care, and believe in upholding human dignity, no matter what the circumstances.
Lily and Bryan
Lily and Bryan came from two different worlds, but both know what it’s like to hide an addiction.
Lily had been a functioning alcohol and cocaine addict for a decade, and is still trying to figure out why she started using. “I had a good, happy life growing up in Sarasota,” she said. “After 10 years of addiction, I was tired. My family knew something was wrong for a while but couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was happening. I told my sister and two weeks later I was at Harvest House. I really thrived there. I wanted to get better this time. I got back to loving myself. I got back to having a conscience.”
When Bryan came to us, he was coming off of a binge of meth and alcohol which caused his liver and kidneys to start shutting down. “I was going to die if I was left on my own; I knew I would go right back to using. My first day at Harvest House was rough because I was still hallucinating when I arrived, but the staff empowered me like I never could have imagined.”
Prior to Harvest House, the extent of Bryan’s drug use was well hidden amidst his membership in a gang, but he recalls the exact reason that drove him to use. “It was a way to escape. At a young age, I was molested for five years and my dad was both mentally and physically abusive. Using drugs was a way to deal with what had been done to me. It’s all so hard to talk about but since I’ve shared it has given others the opportunity to start to heal.”
Bryan was facing 10 years in prison when he arrived. His four children were living with various relatives because their mother was also struggling with addiction. The clearer that Bryan’s mind became, the more it was filled with thoughts of his children.
It is estimated that 25 percent of children in America grow up in households where substance abuse is present. These children are at a higher risk of experiencing verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, which is often the reason they turn to substances as an adult. They are also likely to experience poor performance in school, behavioral issues, low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.
Everyone’s path to recovery is different; however Harvest House focuses on four main pillars – purpose, health, home, and belonging. When a client engages in this holistic approach, the likelihood of relapsing decreases significantly. Bryan says he spends his time reading, working hard, and volunteering at the Harvest Food Pantry. He recently earned a promotion at his job, placing him on the management team. Through tears, Bryan explained, “I really shouldn’t be alive. I should have overdosed and died.”
Lily and Bryan are engaged and now have full custody of their children. Even though Lily is not their biological mother, she loves Bryan’s children just the same. “The kids came with no clothes or belongings. We both work two jobs to give them everything they need, but we couldn’t do that without reasonable rent. When we were ready to move out of Harvest House, no one would rent to us because of Bryan’s history. Once, a prospective landlord told us in front of our kids, ‘I would be embarrassed to house you with his background.’ It was so heartbreaking.”
Finally, Bryan and Lily found their perfect four-bedroom home. “The landlord didn’t care about our history. He saw us for who we are today. He knew that we would be the best tenants.”
Both Bryan and Lily pinpoint forgiveness as one key to their recovery. Lily had to forgive herself. “The best thing about being completely sober is that I have nothing to hide now. I used to be so ashamed,” she said. For Bryan, it was about forgiving others. “There’s a lot of shame tied to abuse. At Harvest House, I was able to start forgiving those who hurt me. I am now transforming my sorrow so I don’t pass it on to my kids. Harvest House never gave up on me, and I will never give up on my kids.”