By Joy Murphy, Co-Founder of Goldie’s Place
Ever since our center was founded in 1996, so many people have asked, “How did Goldie’s Place get its name?” “Does Goldie really exist?” “Is Goldie a woman?”
Yes, there really is a Goldie, and he is a man. Now seems the most appropriate time to tell his story, as Goldie passed away on April 22. His real name was Roy Dogan. Goldie was his street name. His last days were spent in Cook County Hospital, where he was admitted in January for overexposure to the cold as a result of his life on the streets. With frostbite on his hands and feet, Goldie underwent two amputations. He died of further complication, which most likely resulted from his difficult lifestyle.
In many people’s eyes, Goldie’s life would not seem like a success story. But to us at Goldie’s Place, his life truly had meaning. He was our teacher.
Before we founded Goldie’s Place, Roberta Friend, Johanna Dalton, and I worked at a homeless shelter in Evanston. Roberta served as program director and Johanna and I were volunteers. We helped participants with reading skills, GED studies, completing job applications and just making friends. Roberta was gifted in developing mentoring relationships. She taught Johanna and me how to reach out and help people who were looking for ways out of their lifestyles on the streets.
Reaching out to members of this population wasn’t always easy. While we derived great satisfaction from working with those who were eager to learn, change and discuss their problems, it was people like Goldie who taught us the most valuable lessons.
Like many people who are homeless, Goldie had a very low opinion of himself. He was never one to socialize or participate. Roberta often said that the most important work we can do for our brothers and sisters who are homeless is to help them gain sense of self worth. She spent as much time as possible with Goldie, and tried to involve him in activities. Goldie began to enjoy himself and come out of his shell.
Roberta then introduced Goldie to Unity Church in Chicago, and he began to attend regularly. Eventually, other Unity congregants, some of whom were Goldie’s Place board members, became friendly with him. While he seemed to be doing well, Goldie continued to have problems. The most profound and obvious of these problems was drug and alcohol abuse.
Goldie’s substance abuse was brought to the attention of the Goldie’s Place board of directors, a diverse group that includes advisors who are formerly homeless. The group confronted the difficult issue of establishing boundaries, and offering support and encouragement without enabling. Not without difficulty, we made it clear to Goldie that he would always have our support as long as he was not using. And we learned to recognize the signs of his substance abuse through Goldie’s various problems with counselors and transitional housing placements. Goldie eventually landed in jail. He called me once a week from prison to stay in touch.
Shortly before Roberta passed away, Goldie found a sort of peace. He wrote letters expressing his gratitude and understanding that he did indeed have a choice, and that he had found hope and faith in his own way. Goldie was released from prison and, during the last few months of his life on the street, stayed loosely in touch with Goldie’s Place board member Gloria McCartney. She would run into him, give him some change, and encouraging smile or a hug, and invite him to stay in touch.
I will never doubt that Goldie taught us many important lessons, which we needed to learn in order to establish and maintain our center. We named our center Goldie’s Place in honor of those people who require an extra dose of compassion. He also taught us that change is not a linear process. Improvements are made in small increments, and sometimes we regress. This is true for all of us, and especially true for these who are dealing with such profound challenges as homelessness, unemployment, illiteracy and addiction.
That’s why Goldie will remain in our hearts and prayers as someone who inspired us to love and respect all members of our human family. Above all, Goldie taught us not to give up on the people we serve just when they need us the most.