Each year on Memorial Day weekend and Halloween, Patty and Gary Milam serve homemade treats to the residents to honor their son who passed away.
In May 2017, I learned that Chico West would be speaking at Watermark Church to a group of parents whose children were battling addiction. We attended that meeting. He was discussing ways to select a treatment center, what to look for, questions to ask, etc. when one of the moms in the audience asked the question, "What do you do if you don't have insurance or can't afford to send your child to a treatment center?" Chico explained that there were several good options in the Dallas area for consideration if the conditions were right. The first organization that he mentioned was Dallas 24 Hour Club, a non-profit that helped homeless men and women seek a new life away from drugs and alcohol. Now don't ask me why, but it was at this point that I began taking notes. I had no reason to take notes. Our son, who was in his 3rd treatment center (in Colorado Springs) at the time had never been homeless. We had health insurance, and we were able to cover what insurance didn't.
A few days later, our son called me and said, "Mom, I've really been wanting to talk to you about something. I know you've been of the opinion that homeless people on street corners have 'handlers' of sorts because you've seen money exchanged between them and a random person, and as a result you don't give them money. Did you know that 80-90% of homeless people are addicted to drugs or alcohol?" I said, "No, Aaron - I really didn't realize that." He continued, "When you saw the money exchange, you were probably witnessing a drug deal." My response was, "Wow, really? I had no idea." This began to reshape my interface with people on street corners and my attitude about the homeless.
On May 22, 2017 (the day he died), Aaron had an interesting phone conversation with his dad. They were chatting while Aaron was driving. He had left the treatment center after 30 days, though we were hoping he would stay for 90. In the middle of the conversation, Aaron asked his dad to hold on for a minute. Aaron was pulling over to assist a homeless person on the side of the road who was passed out. My husband overheard the conversation. Aaron asked the person, who happened to be a woman, if she was okay. "Ma'am, Ma'am, are you all right?" My husband heard moaning. Aaron asked again if she was all right. He then, with compassion, said "Ma'am, you are not in a safe spot. You need to back up off the road so you'll be safe. Are you sure you're okay?" My husband could hear the woman mumbling that she was okay. Aaron then returned to the conversation with his dad, apologizing saying "Dad, I'm sorry. I had to pull over to make sure that lady was okay."
The next day, we learned that our son had died from an overdose late in the night. We were devastated. He fought so hard to get well. He was 23. We had seen him a month earlier when we visited Colorado Springs and had the opportunity to express our love for him face-to-face one last time. For that, we will always be grateful. We had been to Family Week at LA Hacienda in Hunt, TX and at The Last Resort in Smithfield, TX (both in 2015) where we learned so much about the disease of substance use disorder. I read everything I could get my hands on. I started attending Al Anon faithfully and a few open AA and NA meetings. From this, we learned to separate Aaron from his disease. We learned compassion for those suffering.
As we began to piece together the 3 bullet points above, we knew the occurrences were not coincidental. We felt compelled to list Dallas 24 Hour Club as a beneficiary in Aaron's obituary. It was apparent to us that he had great compassion for the homeless addict, and we wanted to honor him. We then decided to prepare packages for the homeless that we encountered. We filled them with food items, socks, underwear, personal hygiene items, and two pieces of paper. I've attached those for you to look at. One is our story that mentions The 24 as a source of help, and the other is a poem. What's really interesting is that as we began to distribute these packages, our attitudes changed. I found myself hoping to have conversations and make eye contact with those on street corners that I previously ignored or refused to look at. I discovered that only by God's grace that it was me handing them the packet instead of being the one receiving it. I discovered that God uses even the really painful things in our life to help others and to change us.
We love Dallas 24 Hour Club because it represents hope. It is a place for a new beginning. I love what I've heard Marsha Williamson say to a homeless person, "You don't have to stay where you are." I started using those same words of encouragement as I handed out the packets.
We enjoy preparing and serving homemade ice cream and cookies to the residents of The 24 each Memorial Day weekend (closely associated with Aaron's death date anniversary) and then bringing loads of homemade popcorn balls at Halloween. Both of these symbolize some of our family traditions, and it's nice to extend that to The 24 family as well. When we hear success stories in recovery, it thrills us. We are so appreciative of the work done at Dallas 24 Hour Club, making a huge impact in the lives of others.
Patty & Gary Milam
(photography by 24 resident, John Sale)