People don’t usually plan to experience homelessness; life just takes unexpected turns. But for some guests of the Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage, like Michael Hindman, the experience leaves them with more hope than anything else. When KSKA’s Anne Hillman spent the night at the shelter late last month, he greeted her and other guests at the door.
“Alright, anybody and everybody who wants inside, please line up on the right hand side,” 26-year-old Hindman says as he opens the self-locking door to the shelter. He greets a guest. “How you doing, sir?”
It was an unusually calm summer evening. Hindman was monitoring the entrance area to the shelter and checking for contraband like weapons or alcohol.
“Anything inside of your pockets I can see?” he asks a woman as she gazes a bit past him.
Burly and tall with a goofy smile, the name of an ex-girlfriend tattooed in delicate script on his arm, Hindman never saw himself in a place like Brother Francis. He was young, strong, making good money.
“In the back of my mind I thought, ‘Why are people homeless? And I’ve always had a job. Why don’t people work and why don’t people do this?’ Maybe I didn’t have compassion or sympathy at first,” he recalled.
But a few years ago, he made a mistake.
“This is the part of the story where I’ve got to tell the truth, ok? This is my big blip. I was in Dutch Harbor, Alaska working as a longshoreman…” he starts his history.
Hindman got involved with drugs, was busted for buying narcotics for an undercover cop, pleaded guilty to a felony, and went to prison.
“I learned my lesson right off the bat. My first 30 minutes in jail I realized this is not for me and then besides that 30 minutes I had another 18 months to learn the same lesson thinking, ‘This is definitively not for me.’”
As part of the plea deal he gave the state everything he owned. He was released this spring with nothing but purple prison underwear, donated clothing, and a quarter in his pocket. After sleeping rough for a couple nights, someone told Hindman about Brother Francis. He began volunteering as a door monitor in exchange for secure housing at the shelter and help finding a job. Hindman said it completely changed his perspective.
“I no longer pass judgment when I walk by somebody, its more what can I do to help? Because whether the person, maybe they are an alcoholic, or maybe they do have a temper problem, or maybe they do have a flaw, but I think all of us do. What I worry about now is, is that person cold?”
Working at the door lets him see people’s lives turn around, he said. One day they’re tired and stressed and a few weeks later they have a job and are looking bright. That’s his story, too. He was recently hired as a cook on the North Slope.
But during his off weeks he’ll be back at the shelter, helping out, and saving money to rent a place of his own. Hindman sees beauty in the echo-filled concrete halls.
“I’ve seen people with nothing to their name but they give everything they can to the next guy who also has nothing,” he said, recalling people offering up their only jacket to protect others from the rain. “I know people that make $100,000 a year that probably wouldn’t let you borrow their jacket, you know?”
He says he stays positive and hopes it helps others stay that way, too.