A homeless person you need to know
Last updated 3/11/2022 at 11:54am
Special to the Village News
It was during a deadly ocean storm off the coast of France that Mark Sterret met a life-threatening and life-changing challenge. As his ship thrashed against the overwhelming power of crushing waves, a seaman from his deck division was sent out to secure the anchor chain which had become an uncontrolled battering ram against the deck of the ship. As he struggled to fasten down the monster chain, he himself was swept overboard, only to be seen once on the crest of a wave as the ship searched for him in vain.
Mark knew that he would be called next to deal with the threatening chain and it was at this point in his 19-year-old life that he understood that he was truly expendable and in imminent danger of losing his life. Although the captain of the ship soon relented from sending another man out to belay the chain, the damage to Mark's psyche had already been done. Since that day, he has had to deal with PTSD his entire life.
But to truly understand his mental, emotional and career challenges, one needs to consider his early traumatic injury as a 3-year-old. Lying in bed one night, he placed his tender young feet against the nearby window pane and thoughtlessly pushed with all his might. The ensuing broken glass sliced through his leg nearly severing a major artery resulting in surgery, body casting, and causing him and his family much fear and concern.
The residue of this fear caused him to suffer bed wetting for a number of years, making him a pariah in his own family. From that day forward he was always the problem child . As Mark said, "there were eight people in my family and four bedrooms in my home, but all the doors were closed to me." From that point on, he knew he would have to fend for himself in life.
Although his mother was warm and supportive, his dad was emotionally inaccessible and critical of Mark. He remembers many times having to listen to the lectures of his dad who belittled Mark's performance and magnified his mistakes. Dad adored his daughters but thought little of his three sons. As a result, Mark struggled with poor self image issues from this point forward and still does to some extent.
Not feeling good about his worth as a child, his grades and behavior plummeted in high school to the point where he and school officials recognized that he would be better off in a continuation school environment. He responded by excelling socially and academically in the new school and was poised to have a great life except that he couldn't find work after graduation. He turned to the military for structure and secure employment.
He performed well enough in the Navy and started to advance through the ranks when his nerve-shattering storm experience crushed his self confidence. After a captain's mast for diminished performance and alcohol-fueled behavior on shore, he was referred for psychiatric evaluation which led to him receiving a General discharge.
Back in the job market, Mark found that he didn't have the self confidence nor the job-search skills that he needed to compete. This became a hallmark of his limited job success as he self-imposed a tendency to take whatever jobs were offered without considering what he had to offer or how he needed to "get ahead" in life.
Mark became a drifter from this point on, taking whatever temporary employment he could qualify for and making a subsistence living. He would live in and out of shelters and was often on the move. Like a lot of aimless people, he depended on alcohol to numb his pain and this became a social crutch for him, but not an addiction, which he proved to himself in later life. He always managed to stay under the radar of local authorities, not wishing to make problems with his lifestyle of "sleeping rough." He tried not to linger too long in one place.
Mark was often subjected to unfair, unbalanced or even criminal employers, and he had a difficult time challenging their behavior and dealing with their bizarre business practices. Still, he kept his moral compass intact, often setting hidden personal goals which exceeded others' expectations. The criticism of his younger self had made him harder on his adult self than he was on others.
Today, Mark is an introspective thinker and measured speaker. His lack of negotiation skills often causes him to get into challenging job circumstances and makes it hard for him to keep from getting angry.
Mark has made a habit of avoiding others because he doesn't want to impose on them due to his underemployment and financial distress. I asked him why so many homeless people struggle with their work life. Mark responded that they often want help but don't know how to ask for it. He knew why he needed help but didn't know who to contact.
Like many, he had a lack of personal agency, or ability to act in his own best interests. Over the years, his bouts with homelessness have become more brief and less frequent. After a medical emergency while living in his car, Mark recuperated in a hospital and decided to settle down in Fallbrook where he has social contacts.
Here, with the help of Fallbrook Homeless Advocacy, their men's transition house and Servant's church, he has flourished with new life and goals. He volunteers three days a week at Hidden Treasures and other thrift shops and has become a valued team member there. He watches out for his housemates and kindly drives the weaker ones to their volunteer work. He has found a life purpose by helping others with their own personal issues. Mark's faith and his new-found image as a beloved child of God has helped him become an asset to this community instead of a burden.
We think that Mark and his story can be an inspiration to reconsider what we really know about the homeless. Like most people, he wants to be an asset to society, not a burden. We can use his help! Always moving forward, Mark will soon transfer to a veterans home in Lancaster, California. We wish him continued success for participating in, and contributing to our society!