Derrick was born in New York City and believed at a young age that he was a bad kid. The youngest of four, he was always deemed “the naughty one.” He bounced back and forth from his mom’s to his grandma’s. Mom worked two jobs and grandma was strict – caring for all the “bad cousins” with no parents. Hugs, kisses and “I love you” were not present in Derrick’s childhood. “The only loving I was getting was from the people living in the street, drug dealers and gang bangers. So, I’m getting misled and stirred up like a washing machine. I was getting thrown all over and I was just soaking in all the bad stuff.”
At 12, his mom and grandma had had enough, and Derrick was sent to live with his father in Elmira – a father that Derrick barely knew due to years of drug addiction and incarceration. Needless to say, the move did not help. Derrick found a similar crowd and by the age of 15, he was living in a group home. During this time Derrick worked, however, his father would take most of his paycheck. This only fueled Derrick’s anger and resentment for the world. “All that started making me mad at the world. My momma didn’t love me, my dad didn’t love me…That’s how I started thinking.”
Derrick continued to have run-ins with the law, bouncing from jail to job and back again. At the age of 18, Derrick became a father for the first time. “I wasn’t really there for her (my daughter). Only for the first two years, because her mom wasn’t well. But as soon as she got better, I was back in the street, doing what I knew.”
It wasn’t until Derrick’s second daughter was taken from her mother that he was forced to become a father. “I never had any of my kids full time. I’d pick and choose when I wanted to see them. Maybe once a week, once a weekend, or once a month…because I’m in the street. They had a parent. Now my daughter has no one. I said to myself, ‘Ain’t nothing wrong with me, she should be with her dad.’ I realized she needs my love and affection. I’m not built to be sitting in jail…Not when I’ve got kids and I care about my kids. That’s what really turned my whole life around.”
Derrick took custody of his daughter in June 2018. However, his living arrangement wasn’t conducive for being a father and by November, Derrick turned to Catholic Charities’ Second Place East Homeless Shelter. At first, Derrick just thought of going there as a temporary fix. He had no idea the extent to which Catholic Charities would help him. “I knew I could go there. I just didn’t know anything about the programs or anything. I just knew they’d help me. So that’s what I did. I had to do it for her.”
In addition to emergency shelter, Catholic Charities offers a Gateways Community Living Program providing long-term housing assistance and case management services to individuals and families who are homeless and/or diagnosed with mental illness, substance abuse, and HIV/AIDS-related diseases. Derrick entered the Gateways Program and within four weeks he had an apartment. He remembers that day like it was yesterday…“November 28, 2018…that was the happiest day of my life.”
Over the last seven months, Derrick has learned a lot from his case manager, including how to balance discipline and affection as a parent. “My daughter’s not just a girl, she’s a girlie girl. I can’t really yell at her because she’s sensitive. My case manager told me about girl stuff and how to work around it. Which has helped me a lot as a parent and gave me more patience too. Catholic Charities is helpful and a lot of things would have stressed me out without it.” Above and beyond his success as a father, Derrick is motivated to excel in his career. He plans to go back to school and obtain a degree in the hopes of being a manager someday.
Derrick continues to raise his daughter and consistently spends time with his two other children. He concludes his interview by stating, “God is good, and I am definitely a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. And this is why you can’t give up. You have got to stay motivated and patient because it comes when you really need it. I appreciate everything. This is definitely my new life and it started with Catholic Charities.”