Current Issue

A life not wasted

When Ray Maestas sat at his father’s deathbed in 1996, his dad told him something he’d never forget.

“He told me not to waste my life and to work to make a difference in the world,” Maestas says.

And by all measures, Maestas (MSW ’98) has taken his father’s advice. In fact, when his father died, Maestas was preparing himself to make a difference as a student in DU’s Graduate School of Social Work.

“DU saw me through some very dark times,” says Maestas, who lost his mother a year later. “But it also prepared me for a major life transition and for a meaningful career.”

A career that means a lot to many people, including those who are homeless in Denver.

Maestas is the volunteer and work therapy coordinator at the Denver Rescue Mission, a nonprofit that helps homeless people.

He says his DU degree gave him plenty of options, but he chose to work with the homeless population for a very specific reason.

“I firmly believe that a place to live is the beginning of a person’s re-emergence into society,” he says. “Things fall into place after that happens.”

That connection to society, Maestas says, is key.

“Mother Teresa once said the worst kind of poverty in the world is that disconnected look some people have in their eyes. It’s a look that says ‘we don’t belong,'” he says. “They don’t feel a part of our world — what social workers call disenfranchised.”

Maestas adds that if he could get one point across about homelessness, it would be clarify the misperception about who is impacted.

“First, they’re not homeless, they’re people who happen to be homeless,” he says. “They’re people.”

And, he says Denver is seeing younger and younger people become homeless, and that families with small children comprise 30 percent of the homeless population. Another 30 percent have jobs, he says, but “they just can’t afford housing.”

Despite the numbers, Maestas says Denver is making headway on the problem and that homelessness is down 11 percent from two years ago.

“But that number changes every time a Greyhound bus pulls into town.”

The best part of his job? When former clients tell him they found a place to live.

“I always ask them to tell me it again because I see how happy they are when the say it, because I know what they’re really telling me is that they’re not broken anymore.”

Comments are closed.