Everything in Rocky’s life was falling into place. He was enrolled in school, pursuing a degree in psychology, and he was making enough money as a waiter to live comfortably. But, like so many people at the Coalition, one tragedy turned into a series of unfortunate events.
Rocky suffers from Type 1 diabetes, a condition that began to give him more and more trouble, especially in his right leg. On Christmas Day in 2014, he fell gravely ill and was taken to the hospital.
He says, “The doctors told me they didn’t know how I was still alive. They had to amputate the leg. The doctors told me it was that or nothing. They said, ‘If you leave this hospital with that leg, you’re not coming back.’” On December 26, his leg was amputated.
Recovering from surgery and unable to work, he could no longer afford his car. “One day, they came and they towed my beautiful Honda Accord. Then the owner of my apartment, my beautiful apartment, decided to raise the rent.” Though Rocky had lived there for eight years and never missed a payment, the landlord wouldn’t give him a break.
“So, I stayed until the end of my lease, and then I lost my apartment. I’d lost my leg. I’d lost my car. I paid a couple of guys to pack up my whole apartment, because I couldn’t do anything. With my wounds, I couldn’t do too much. I wanted to take care of my leg.”
Just like that, Rocky was homeless. “It was a very depressing moment. It was like watching my own life as a movie.”
He spent one month at another area shelter before arriving at the Coalition’s Men’s Service Center (MSC), where he met his case manager, Al McKinnon. “When I met Mr. Al for the first time, it was like he was my brother. He is a person you can count on. He is very honest. He’ll tell you when you’re wrong. I connected with him. To me, the Coalition is Mr. Al.”
“My two months at the MSC were very useful. I went to different classes. One was a financial class, like how to budget and how to save.” Between his monthly Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) checks and his newfound budgeting skills, Rocky could once again pursue his goals.
“When I came here, I wanted to put my things in order and organize myself. I went in a meeting room, and I started planning. The first thing I wanted to do was to get an apartment. I asked Mr. Al for help.”
“I went to 20 different apartments. I had to go by bus in a manual wheelchair. Every time you make an application, you have to pay $35 or $50. You put in applications, and they aren’t approved.” But, finally, Rocky’s luck began to turn around, and he was approved for an apartment.
“My second goal was to go back to school.” But getting back to his old life wasn’t easy, he confesses. “When you go to a university for four years, the people know you. I liked to dress in a suit, walking very strong, going, ‘This is Rocky Harrison!’ But when I went back to school, I was not the same Rocky Harrison. I went in my wheelchair. I went in a t-shirt. The professors didn’t know me. Most of the people I knew had graduated.”
Still, Rocky jumped head-first back into his studies and quickly finished his required classes. He proudly returned to the MSC to give Mr. Al an invitation to his graduation. With his new prosthetic leg, he was determined to walk at the ceremony.
“When I went to get my diploma, they knew I wanted to get out of my wheelchair. I got out, and I fell back. I got up for a second time and started walking. Instead of me walking all the way down to them, they came to me.”
“You know, when people see you trying to reach something, they will come. I want to tell people that if they have any problem – I don’t care what it is, alcohol, drugs, anything – if you want to get out from under that problem, you have to start walking. They will come to you. People have a tendency to help one another.”
Rocky plans to spend the rest of his life helping others. “I’m still not finished,” he says. “I want to get my Masters in Clinical Psychology.” If history is any indication, nothing can stop him from achieving his goals.