by Jimmy Heath
Gregory Payton’s study of the causes and effects of homelessness on society began with his own first-hand experience. Payton was once himself homeless and caught up in the throes of addiction.
After a lot of hard work and determination, Payton will be graduating from the University of Cincinnati this month with a Bachelor of Science in Addiction Studies and an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts and Social Science. He has recently been certified as a Chemical Dependency Counselor (CCDC 1). In September, he will be entering the Master’s Program at UC.
But Payton’s life was not always this focused. He returned to Cincinnati in 1996 from a good paying job as a shipyard machinist in Virginia. "I came home because I was in trouble. I didn’t know I had a disease," says Payton. He had turned to alcohol and crack as a way to combat the loneliness of a recent divorce and what he thought was an empty life. In Cincinnati, Gregory Payton found himself homeless and living at the Drop Inn Center, running the streets in search of crack cocaine. The Drop Inn Center was where he first heard about the Steetvibes Vendor Program. Donald Whitehead (then Director of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, now Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, DC) came to the Drop Inn Center to recruit people as Streetvibes Vendors. "I’m proud to be the person that sold the first Streetvibes," says Gregory. "I was tired of working for nothing at the temporary labor agencies. And I got to know Donald Whitehead, who knew about homelessness from his own experience." But selling Streetvibes was just the beginning of Payton’s journey to sobriety.
"I had an experience that helped me get sober. I saw the police beating on rowdy patrons at a New Year’s Eve party at a bar in downtown Cincinnati. It wasn’t just that incident alone, but everything about my life came into focus. I saw these people, the police and the out-of-control drunks, acting the way they were and thought, ‘I can’t be a part of that insanity anymore.’" Payton questioned the deeper part of what he saw. He was frightened and scared. "These are how people treat each other and themselves? It was all so wrong. I was determined to make a change in my own life too."
Payton went to a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous and got sober, and eventually found a job at a treatment program for men in Avondale. "I worked third shift at the Freeman House, basically staying up all night and watching the house." But the Freeman House soon closed its doors and Payton was out of a job. "The minister who operated the program ran off with the money!"
Gregory moved back downtown and got a job at the Drop Inn Center and returned to selling Streetvibes to make a little extra money. "Someone approached me while I was selling the paper and asked me to come to UC and share my homeless experience with addiction studies students," says Payton. "After the session the professor said he thought I should be a student and one day I could become a teacher too." Payton, now working as the interim director of the Drop Inn Center’s treatment program for homeless men, had thought about furthering his education and had even taken a few classes in pursuit of his chemical dependency counselor license. He felt the need to return to school, not only for the benefit of his clients at the Drop Inn Center, but to learn more about his own addiction. But college was a different challenge for Payton. "I didn’t think I had what it took," he says.
Gregory started at UC with one class in the summer of ’98 and found that it was what he was looking for. Eventually enrolling full-time, Payton continued to work as a counselor at Transitions, a treatment program in Northern Kentucky. Now he’s ready to graduate and in the fall will continue to pursue his Masters Degree at UC.
Gregory is one of many success stories that we are proud to report on in the Streetvibes. Countless people over the years have benefited from the Streetvibes Vendor Program. Many others have found their way out of homelessness through the many services provided by the Drop Inn Center. In addition to emergency shelter, the Drop Inn Center provides addiction treatment, jobs and training. Gregory Payton will continue to be living proof that there is a potential for hope and joy in a life that was once broken.
Originally Published in Cincinnati Ohio by the Streetvibes newspaper. Re-Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio July 2002 Issue 55