When Joe Gapan lost his wife five years ago, his entire world came crashing down.
“When you lose your mate, you lose your world. You lose part of your identity,” he said.
Retreating to drugs to cope with his loss, Gapan, born and raised in Wenatchee, ended up serving nearly two and a half years in prison. “I was giving up. And that’s the wrong thing to do.”
He was in a deep hole. However, he chose to put his life back together. Gapan came to Hospitality House in 2010, with the goal of paying off his prison fines and saving enough money to find his own place.
Two years later, he’s come a long way. Gapan has already paid off his fines, and has been doing construction work since serving his sentence. “Not everybody gets that break,” he said.
Gapan says that he is one of the lucky ones. He currently owns a couple of older cars, along with a motorcycle his son sold him. “If you saw me out on the street, you wouldn’t think I was homeless,” he said, adding, “The definition of being homeless is not having a home.”
Gapan insists that just because people have fallen on hard times, they still have the choice of picking themselves back up. “What bugs me about homeless people is that there is a way out.”
He brings up the question of why someone who is physically able to work chooses to stay out on the street corner while holding up a sign. He could do the same thing for any company, Gapan says.
Still, he feels that with the right push and the right help, individuals who have fallen on hard times can find a way back to being productive community members. Instead of pointing out that someone is homeless, Gapan thinks about what has happened in the person’s life, what has gotten them to the point where they are now.
“You can hardly pick yourself up when you’re oppressed,” he said. Gapan says that encouragement plays a huge role in bringing up others’ self-esteems, making them more likely to reach out and tackle new tasks.
Gapan says that homeless shelters are a “stepping stone.”
“I think a lot of people have this misconception that homeless is helpless,” he said.
He says that people who are homeless are basically no different than others around them. It’s simply the fact that they have had some sort of bad experience happen to them, and that with help, they can be back on their feet.
“The community has to be involved,” he said.
Jeric Quiliza spent the past year as an AmeriCorps volunteer in the Eastmont School District. He writes about homeless issues in North Central Washington and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org