- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - They walk by with their packages, their smiles and their laughter, and they scurry on their way beneath the twinkling lights of the holiday season in Sioux Falls.

But they do not notice Darrin Frederick in the shadows.

They don’t see the ragged man in the black stocking hat and dark navy coat who wants so much to trade places with them. Who yearns to be able to buy gifts for his loved ones. Who wishes he had a warm place to call home.

They don’t know that he wanders the streets on December nights with a blanket he pulls over himself when he settles in to rest for a few hours in an alley, or beneath a bridge, or between two vehicles in a parking lot to protect himself from the wind.

Until it starts raining and he has to roll underneath one of those vehicles.

“Just ain’t a good life for anybody,” Frederick, 44, softly said one recent morning at the Good Shepherd Center, a daytime drop-in center downtown for the city’s street people.

But there’s a new hope today in Sioux Falls for him and hundreds of other homeless. It’s called the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House. When its doors open in a few weeks, people such as Frederick are going to have a warm, safe place to sleep at night and programs to help them find jobs and beat their addictions during the day.

Argus Leader Media (https://argusne.ws/1rmv3qt ) is pitching in to help. All proceeds from its Lend-A-Hand charitable giving program this holiday season are going to the Bishop Dudley house to pay for bedding, hygiene kits, mattresses and other needs.

And maybe - though there is no guarantee - to make a difference in Darrin Frederick’s life.

Maria Krell, director of the Good Shepherd Center, tried asking him the other day what it would take for a man hopelessly beaten down by alcoholism to get off the streets and consider a more positive path through life.

“He said, ‘Somebody who believes in me, and a place to sleep at night,’ ” Krell said. “But he was vague with me. I suspect he’s afraid to say, ‘Yes, (the Bishop Dudley house) will help me do that.’ I think he’s afraid that if he doesn’t succeed, will we think lesser of him?”

Defeat does not sit well with a man who already insists that he has no self-worth. Frederick has been living on the streets of Sioux Falls for most of the past seven years. He spends his days wandering from the Good Shepherd Center to the library to The Banquet feeding ministry and beyond - through the alleys and the back ways where only the homeless seem to travel.

When he can find enough change on the ground or pick up enough money from what he calls “spot jobs” shoveling sidewalks or trimming trees, he spends it on beer and vodka for himself and the street people he calls his friends.

“Being on the streets is really lonely,” Frederick said. “I spend every … dime I have, instead of spending it on me, I’m spending it so that I have somebody else to be with.”

He said he grew up in Chamberlain, graduated from high school there and has a talent for being a chef. Though it’s not always easy to divine the difference between truth and embellishment with him, he insisted that he has worked all over the country at resorts and hotels making meals for others.

The problem was, those gigs always provided a place to stay, so he never really put down roots anywhere. When he wasn’t working, Frederick said he spent his time drinking. And when the jobs ended - either because his seasonal work was done or he got fired - he used up what money he had on alcohol instead of housing.

“Then I’m back on the phone, calling home and saying, ‘Mom, you know, could you help me out with a bus ticket? I’m in Arizona and lost my job or something,’ ” he said. “And I don’t fill them in on all the full details. You know, I love them, and I don’t want them to see their son, see me, this way.”

His elderly parents live in Watertown. He has a brother in Chamberlain, another in Sioux Falls and a third who is in the military. The phone calls among them have dwindled to virtually nothing, and he sees little of them, Frederick said, because he has burned a lot of bridges and caused a lot of heartache and disappointment in his family.

He doesn’t know what to say to brothers who know he has talent and so wonder why he doesn’t simply pull it together.

“They don’t understand, you just don’t stop being an alcoholic,” Frederick said. “You just don’t wake up, and it’s gone. I battle with the depression, and just the feelings and being on the streets, just wandering around with loneliness. There’s nothing more I want than having a big smile on my face, and I can get that through a bottle.”

The problem within the community of homeless men and women in downtown Sioux Falls is escaping from a culture of alcoholism that doesn’t allow you to break free, said Helen Korcal, who oversees the feeding program at Good Shepherd Center.

If one of their group finds sobriety, “the first thing they’re told is, ‘Now you’re too good for us, that you can’t drink with us,’ ” Korcal said. “That’s hard to do. In the first place, if it’s a cold wintry evening and you’re by yourself, you know, it’s nice to have friends and that company. It’s hard to turn away.”

Hard? Try planning your whole long and miserable day by catching the weather report on the television set at the Good Shepherd Center first thing in the morning, Frederick said, and hoping that the streets aren’t going to be cold or damp or snowy.

Try moving from one shivering concrete ledge to another simply looking for a place to sit for a time. Or hoping that you can nod off in the library for a few minutes before you’re awakened and told to move on. Or scrounging for a place to sleep for even a few hours at night - an abandoned vehicle, perhaps, or a warehouse or something “where you go in when it’s dark and you come out when it’s dark,” Frederick said.

And if the building is locked, well, he said, “You find ways.”

Frederick hasn’t celebrated Christmas in seven years. He has a 23-year-old daughter with whom he seldom speaks. He has three grandchildren he said he’s never seen.

People who know him say, “Man, you’re educated. Go back to being a chef. Do something with yourself.”

Frederick simply shakes his head. How do you get ahead when everything you own is in a backpack. How could his life ever be better?

“Look at me,” he said. “I mean, I sleep in my clothes under a bridge or in an alleyway covered up in a blanket. I mean, I’m not even interview material when it comes to getting a job.”

Perhaps the Bishop Dudley house can change that. It will depend, of course, on how much Darrin Frederick really wants to change.

He seems at heart a good person, Krell at the Good Shepherd Center said. He’s always one of the first to pitch in at the center when work needs to be done, she said. Though he’s had his run-ins at places such as the Union Gospel Mission, when the alcohol controlled his mouth in place of him, “He’s always been honest and respectful of our rules and staff,” Krell said.

Frederick insisted that he just pawned the only real possession he still owned - his Apple computer - so he could help out a friend who recently was assaulted and taken to a hospital. He even turned a pair of socks he had been given at the Good Shepherd Center over to someone he thought needed them more.

“He’s about giving back, not just taking,” Krell said.

So he’s about giving, but is he also about change? Has the self-loathing and the shame reached the point yet where he’s ready to shrug off his loneliness and despair for something better?

First you need to understand this, said Korcal as she plated cookies at the Good Shepherd Center: Men like Darrin Frederick don’t recover from alcoholism.

They can be recovering, she said in her no-nonsense way. But that is his best hope.

And as for those bridges he burned, it will take a long time to rebuild them back to his family and to employers and to friends, Korcal said. He’s probably going to have to find some new friends who won’t pull him back into the abyss of alcoholism.

“I know in this new facility there will be opportunities for people to grab hold of to change their lives,” she said. “I know many people will try, and I pray it’s the right time in their life for it. You can tell people a lot of things, but to make that choice, it’s a very individual experience.”

Whether Frederick is ready to give it a try remains to be seen. But he knows how unmercifully long the days can be. He knows how very little sleep comes to visit him.

He knows all too intimately that depression and boredom are killing his soul.

It’s clear every time he passes a house on the street with people inside laughing and feasting and celebrating the season, and he yearns for the bottle but wishes for something more.

For something better.

___

Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

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