Voices is a monthly interview with a person who has been a resident of the York County Shelter Programs. We hope that by sharing stories, others will be helped by knowing that there is always hope.
Our first profile is Mike Ouellette. Mike lived at the shelter in 2014. He took one step at a time to make his life better - and today he works for YCSP as the Food Pantry Coordinator.
Mike Ouellette says the lowest point of his life was November 14, 2014. He had been struggling for a long time. He had lost both of his parents to cancer, and a sibling had also been diagnosed with cancer.
Originally from northern Maine, he had moved down to York County and was living with a family member. He was struggling with his emotions. He felt he had no direction. He was unable to sleep. Mike began to self-medicate with alcohol. “At first it was relief, then after time it became a need,” he says of his use of alcohol. “My father was an alcoholic, like his father before, and I swore I would not let it happen to me, but eventually I fell into the cycle where I needed to consume alcohol just to function.”
Mike lost “most everything” – including a place to live. “I had nowhere to go,” he says. He remembered hearing about York County Shelter Programs at AA meetings he had attended.
“So, I showed up with just one big bag in my hand that contained all that I had, and that’s really where my story begins,” Mike says. “They welcomed me with open arms and assured me that everything would be OK. Those words meant so much for me to hear, because until then, I was so lost. It was scary at first, but after a few days of settling in, I knew I had come to the right place.”
YCSP always assigns new residents with a navigator, to help people make a plan. “I went to various groups, was set up with a doctor to address health issues, met with housing to make sure I could acquire a place to live after my stay, but the most important of all, I was able to talk to a counselor and finally let go of all the things that were eating me up inside and learn how to deal with life on life's terms,” Mike says. After a few weeks he was enrolled into a six-month residential treatment program at Angers Farm in West Newfield. After completing that, he moved back to the shelter while waiting for housing, and started a vocational training program in YCSP’s Food Services department. “I started doing chores like dishes and cleaning. You know, keeping busy. That was a big part of my sobriety,” he says. “Learning how to do things all over again without having substances involved.” He eventually became a cook. After working two years in the kitchen, he was offered the position of Food Pantry Coordinator, in January 2017.
“I am responsible for feeding those in our communities that are facing issues like homelessness, mental health issues, addiction, and unemployment,” Mike says. “You never know what life just throws at you. But what truly matters, is now they have someone to turn to.”
“After all I had been through, when I thought my life was ending in hopelessness... I was able to turn it all around by doing one thing. Asking for help. That's what it's all about. Hope. I love my job, the agency I work for, and the people that surround me. I was given a new lease on life, and I am so grateful! Who else can say that every day when they come to work, they get to pay it forward and freely give the tools and hope that were so freely given to them! I am truly blessed and owe so much to YCSP.”
We are blessed to have Mike with us and every day we see all that he gives to others.
If you or someone you know is facing homelessness or is without food, contact us at 207-324-1137 or firstname.lastname@example.org