written by Nancy Mccallum
Mike Ouellette says the lowest point of his life was November 14, 2014. He had been struggling for a long time. He had lost his parents to cancer, and a sibling had also been diagnosed with cancer.
Mike had moved from his northern Maine hometown to York County, to live with a family member. He was struggling emotionally. He felt he had no direction. He was unable to sleep. He began to self-medicate with alcohol. “At first it was relief, then after time it became a need,” he says.“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 (YCSP) 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,” he 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 assigns new residents a “navigator” to help people address the issues that led to homelessness.
“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 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 substance abuse 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, in January 2017 he was offered the position of Food Pantry Coordinator.
“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,” Mike says.“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 York County Shelter Programs.”