Director of Programs James Brown has a unique perspective on homelessness: He’s been there.
James started drinking at 13. He started using heroin at 18. “I knew it was wrong,” he said. “My parents and grandparents had good work ethics.” Throughout much of his addiction, James was in school or working. He was a truck driver, then for 8 years, he worked for Goddard Space Center as a satellite controller. He used drugs through it all, but finally lost his job and found himself addicted and on the street.
He was robbed at gunpoint. He was beaten by the police. He was in nine detoxes and three treatment centers in 12 years. James’ dad was also an alcoholic but he got sober on his own, without any help. James thought he should be able to do the same. “I wanted to get clean,” James said. “I thought if my dad was man enough to get clean on his own, I should be able to get clean on my own too.” Finally, he attended a detox that was seven months long, longer than the others. He started praying and meditating, going to Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, and finally in 1994, he got sober.
“One step in the 12-step program is the third step,” James said. “Ask God, what does he want you to do? I felt he wanted me to become a social worker.”
James went back to school to earn a sociology degree where a professor told him he was a natural for social work. He switched his major and ended up earning a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in social work. “My parents always rescued people fleeing bad situations like domestic violence or abuse and my grandparents were always helping neighbors, so helping others was just embedded in me. It was part of my life.”
James worked for other nonprofits before coming to NEW in 2007. “I like New Endeavors,” James said. “I like that we’re constantly evolving. I like that we have a family environment which bleeds over to the clients.”
James’ background certainly helps him relate to the women. “I think because I’ve been where they are, we have a mutual bond,” he said. “It helps me be more compassionate and empathetic than most.” James knows from his life on the street that these women don’t trust anyone but themselves. “I understand the dynamic of changing people’s mindset. It’s very challenging to re-orient the ladies when they have had no one to protect them and yet miraculously they survived.”
A life on the street also demanded that James be able to assess a person or situation quickly, a skill that translates to being a successful social worker. James recalls many women that he has helped through the years, get stable and heathy.
“I find helping the women here at NEW satisfying and fulfilling,” he said. “I continue to ask God what he wants me to do, and he continues to tell me, go help people, be a social worker.”