Bowery Missionary

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:06

How one man went from homeless to hopeful at the downtown shelter

Delon Ali was just another strung-out, barely conscious New Yorker at Dunkin' Donuts.

He had no warm place to sleep for the night. He could, like he had done multiple other times, commit a small misdemeanor and turn himself into the cops for a free bed.

Finally, he listened to some friends who had told him about the Bowery Mission. So he went there for the night.

And that night started a six-year-journey for Ali, from cocaine addict to a man who has now many identities: a cook at the mission he once visited, a mentor for other men who come in off the street, a preacher and a man of God.

"I never liked people, I couldn't even have a conversation with you," said Ali. "I was a drug addict, people didn't like me. I think it was just not being respected for so long. It took me awhile to really see I was created for a purpose and that life is a gift."

You would never know that Ali used to be anti-social or withdrawn. As he sat at a table in the lower floors of the Bowery, he flashes a large grin. He called to some of the men, saying "Brother! How are you?" Ali readily showed off his headquarters: the kitchens of the Bowery, where, he said, he "gets the opportunity to feed a thousand people every day." (His specialty dishes: macaroni and cheese, and curried chicken, a recipe from his homeland in Trinidad.)

Now 42, Ali left Trinidad as a young man looking for work. He soon hit the big time, getting a job at an upscale French clothing store, earning nearly six figures. He had his own apartment, car and girlfriend. He was, you could say, living the American dream. But like so many young entrepreneurs who find themselves suddenly wealthy, he began squandering his cash on parties. First, he was smoking cocaine and drinking alcohol on the weekends. But soon, he was doing it every day. "I lost everything," he said. "My car, my apartment and my girlfriend. I hit a brick wall."

His journey wasn't easy, from dealing with his addiction issues, to letting go of his own anger and bitterness. His situation, though, was helped by what is colloquially known as "the program" at The Bowery Mission: a six month- to one year program where Bowery workers and volunteers provide homeless and destitute men with counseling, tutoring and job training opportunities. Now, he mentors others who also are on the path to recovery.

"Some days they will feel like they cannot keep walking and that's when you lift their shoulders up and encourage them," said Ali. "Healing is a process. I may have been on my way for six years, but I still don't have it all figured out yet."

He may not have it all figured out, but for he takes pride in small steps like getting back in touch with his family back in Trinidad who can now, "be proud of him." He fills his 18-hour days with cooking and serving, mentoring and preaching.

He says that he wakes up at 4 a.m. to begin preparing the day's meals to hand out to Bowery guests. Then, in the afternoon, he either goes to preach at the Times Square Church, or visits the parks to find homeless men to take in to the Mission. Delon just graduated Bible School.

He seems to relish this new role as a leader in his community. "I get it, I was once like them, and I know what it feels like to be homeless and cast out, you know?" he said, as he encourages Donald, one of his mentees, to talk about how he has made an impact in the healing man's life. For now, Ali is content to stay at The Bowery, but he is open to where life takes him.

"Preaching is my call but it doesn't mean I have to be in a church," he said. "My pulpit is on a stove, in the church, in the streets wherever I'm at. I just want to see as many lives change as I can."