Josh Bailey says the strong feeling of security he now has is like a shield. “Bad things bounce off and I get through, over the hurdles.”
Josh says he gained that sense of security through 18 months in SAL’s Independent Living Services program.
“I love you guys,” he told ILS Supervisor Jane Ottow recently at a celebration honoring his successful “graduation.” “Even during rough times, when I was falling off a little bit, someone was always there for me.”
Josh entered ILS a veteran of rough times. A former foster child who had lived in multiple foster homes before aging out at 18, he had years couch-surfing with friends who would give him a temporary place to stay. The winter before finding ILS he ended up homeless, living on the streets. Then after being featured in a documentary on LGBT homeless youth, “Out of Respect,” by Tess Gallun, he connected with Jane, who brought him into ILS.
He started out in the Youth Moving On program, then moved to Youth Transitioning to Adulthood. Because of his lifelong wish to help others, he was named a house parent in the Wells Street apartment house where ILS houses some of its young clients.
“It was like my calling,” Josh said. “I felt like I had a place in the world.”
The case management services and the caring he received through ILS provided him with “a family that I’ve never had. I could call any time, not just when I needed something, but to work out a thought, or if I felt stressed out… It was great not having to please people just to have place to stay!”
Josh says his time with ILS was not always easy. “I used to have nuclear breakdowns. I’d shut down and there was no way to get above water; I was constantly drowning. But they helped me see there was light at the end of the tunnel.”
How did they do that? “By their confidence in me and their reassurance that even through the dark times things will be OK … I learned to let things roll off, to settle myself down.”
He laughs when he talks about Christine Woods, one of his caseworkers. She practiced her signature form of tough love on Josh. “She won’t let me get away with nothin’!” he said. “But she grew on me. I still call her Mama.” She hates the name, which prompts Josh to use it even more.
Josh says he’s doing really well now. He has a full-time job. He was enrolled, but he failed a class at MATC – “It was my fault,” he quickly adds, and he is determined to return. His dream job is to work in public relations /marketing for a non-profit such as SAL. And there’s a good chance that, if he completes his education, he will make it.
Josh has a lot of media and communications experience. In addition to speaking engagements tied to the documentary he appeared in, he did an Oprah radio interview on the film, radio interviews for SAL about ILS and was interviewed twice by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the documentary and being a homeless LGBT youth. He also spoke about his life experiences and his work with ILS at SAL’s last golf outing.
He is living with his partner of five years in a nice, two-story rental home with four bedrooms and hopes that one day he can foster and eventually adopt children.
Josh spoke of a recent difficulty he had around the death of his grandfather. At first he feared the emotionalism would bring on another meltdown. But he got through it and felt secure, he said, because of what he learned in ILS.
“Everything has happened just as it should; sometimes I just can’t believe it,” Josh said. “I am a success already, and it took a long time for me to find it inside. But I didn’t do it myself. I did it with the help of St. Aemilian’s.”
“This is the guts of the matter,” Jane said. “Being at home with himself means he will never be homeless again.”