Newsroom | Comments by Trevor Southwick, A Peer Support Specialis

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Trevor has a lived experience with homelessness, and his moving story reminded participants about the real human stories behind homelessness work.

Comments by Trevor Southwick, A Peer Support Specialist With Lived Homeless Experience

Homelessness

The following is the text of a speech given at the Capstone Regional Homelessness Event on June 10, 2021, by Trevor Southwick. Trevor has a lived experience with homelessness, and his moving story reminded participants about the real human stories behind homelessness work.

I want to start by saying it is an absolute honor and pleasure to be asked to share a little bit of my experience at this event today. I am grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to be here today because many of the individuals I experienced homelessness and addiction with are now either in prison or no longer with us. I was fortunate enough to have found recovery and learned new way of life, which has been centered around working with people with similar barriers to success since 2015. Over the past three years, I have shifted from direct practice work into a more systems-level focus, and I am now currently pursuing a 1-year Master of Social Work in Policy Administration and Community Practice at ASU, after having just graduated this past May with my Bachelor of Social Work.

My time to share is limited, so I would like to cover some of the more relevant pieces of my story that hopefully highlight both the importance of specialized resources and the challenges that stem from a lack thereof.

Trevor Southwick MugshotI was raised in a military household, and as an Air Force brat, moved around often. At the age of 9, the debilitating impact of alcoholism began to materialize in my household. This childhood trauma left a lasting impact as I aged into early adulthood and when I arrived in high school, I was introduced to marijuana. I quickly found solace in using substances to deal with the ongoing stressors in my life. Still, my life remained relatively manageable and at 18 years old, I graduated high school and received the Presidential Scholarship, which included full tuition for two years at any community college. I had also secured a job working as a bank teller for a major bank. Despite these amazing milestones in my life, it was not long after that I was introduced to heroin and my life quickly began to spiral. Within a year, I had dropped out of school, lost my apartment, was let go from my job at the bank, and eventually arrived in my first treatment center in 2012. That was just the beginning, and my sobriety after that treatment center was short lived.

My homelessness was predominantly in an outlying community. At that time, there were very little resources for homeless individuals in the area. There were no homeless outreach teams engaging at the parks where I slept. There were no emergency shelter services available there either. I eventually reached a crossroad in my life and was faced with one of the most terrifying decisions. The drugs had stopped providing me with the reprieve that I had once relied upon. Looking back, I believe that I did not have a drug problem, but rather I had a living problem and drugs were my solution to life. I had finally reached that tipping point where drugs no longer provided a sense of ease and comfort, and I was left with the decision: I either give it my all one last time and try to get sober or I end my life.

Fortunately, I decided that I could always fall back on plan B, if plan A didn’t work out, so I went and detoxed at Community Bridges (CBI) and had my first experience with a Peer Support Specialist, which is a behavioral health professional with lived experience and is in recovery and works directly with people with those shared experiences. He provided me resources for a 28-day AHCCCS-funded residential treatment center, where I went to after detox. And the rest was basically history. I did the things they recommended and as a result, my life continued to flourish. At 1-year sober, I received a grant through Maricopa Workforce Connections (now Arizona@Work) that paid for me to get certified as a Peer Support Specialist. This was the foundational beginning that launched me into my dedicated and passionate career in human services.

Published June 18, 2021

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