Meet the Smiths

May 2, 2014


John and Susan Smith – both homeless at the time – met one day a few years ago on the streets of Trenton. A year or so before that neither of them could have imagined meeting in such a dreadful situation. For each of them the journey they now share together began in very different places under very different circumstances.

Susan marks the moment when her life took a sudden turn with a knock on the front door of her Bala-Cynwyd home. Married to a prominent business owner, with two special needs children adopted in Russia, she was living the comfortable, upper-middle class life she had always known.  Everything changed when she answered the door. Outside she was greeted by two FBI agents. Her husband had been arrested on charges of fraud and embezzlement. He was later convicted. The bank eventually foreclosed her home. With assets frozen, her savings were soon depleted. Her family helped for a time, but her parents were by now retired. They took in the kids, as Susan tried to get her life back. As it happened, though, getting her life back took longer than she thought it would.

This can happen to anybody, Susan said. I know that now.

For John the turning point was very different from Susan’s, but it happened just as quickly. While at work in an auto parts store one day, John lost consciousness. Although barely in his forties, he had a sudden stroke. After going through physical therapy, he returned to work only to find that his health was too compromised to continue. This new reality was the difficult first step in a downward spiral that ultimately led to the chance meeting with Susan a year or so later.

Sometimes life has a way of presenting seemingly small choices in our path that later turn out to be significant ones – sometimes even life changing. And that is exactly what happened when, having exhausted all the possibilities Trenton had to offer, they decided to try their luck in Philadelphia. One chilly afternoon they found themselves walking east on Locust Street. When they came to Broad Street they asked each other which way they should turn – north or south. For some reason they both chose south and turned left on Broad Street. A minute or so later they found themselves in front of BSM’s red doors.

On cold nights we say to each other how lucky we are because we turned that corner and came to Broad Street Ministry.

As they returned regularly for meals, John and Susan became a part of the BSM community. John recalled, We found people here who genuinely cared, who helped us to stay positive and optimistic.

With the help of Project HOME’s mobile outreach teams, and BSM’s partner, Bethesda Project, they eventually found a shelter that admitted couples. They followed the program guidelines to the letter, and worked every day maintaining the shelter where they were housed. In time their efforts paid off. They received a housing voucher from the Philadelphia Housing Authority, and began searching for an apartment.

It wasn’t too long after that they found their apartment. It is a tidy one-bedroom that had just been completely refurbished. Susan described it this way: It has everything we need. A washer and dryer. All new appliances in the kitchen. A nice living room, and a comfortable bedroom. It even has bamboo floors! Can you believe that? Bamboo floors…

Now John and Susan return to BSM once a week to have lunch at Breaking Bread. They sit at the same table with friends who stayed connected to them in the difficult times. We come back once a week because we are so grateful. This community, our network, is very important to us. BSM is our lifeline.

Just last week they learned that they are now grandparents. And for the first time in a long time they will be able to do something again that they may have taken for granted at another time in their lives – they will be able to have their family come and visit them in their home.

John summed it up this way: Things have turned out tremendously for us. When we walk into this place, we feel at home.

Perhaps that’s because they are.