From Near Blindness to Crossing the Finish Line- Hollenbeck Resident Accomplishes “Impossible” Goal

Emil’s* life hasn’t been an easy one. However, it didn’t stop Emil from setting and meeting what many would call an impossible goal.

Up until 2000, Emil had worked at a hardware store in Los Angeles. That’s when he was laid off and decided to relocate to Washington State where he worked on a farm and lived in a mission. Later it was on to Las Vegas, and then back to Los Angeles, where he took work as a day laborer while living at different shelters around the city.

In 2013 his diabetes, which had been untreated for many years, had progressed to the point where Emil began losing his vision. No longer able to work, Emil lived wherever he could–first with friends and then eventually on the streets of LA. Emil didn’t really know where to turn and, he says, “I didn’t want to bother anyone”; so he slept in parks, in bushes, wherever he could to feel safe.

Emil’s sense of safety was shattered in May 2015. He was severely beaten and robbed–stripped of his meager possessions and his identification and left on the street to die. The beating also accelerated his vision loss to the point where he was nearly blind.

Once Emil made it back into a shelter he finally had a lucky break–with just the clothes on his back, no income, and practically blind, Emil was moved into an apartment home at Hollenbeck Terrace in October 2015. There he became connected to Estela, a case manager for LifeSTEPS and with her help he would begin to get his life back on track.

Emil’s housing was made possible through the Housing for Health program, a division of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and the partnership with Brilliant Corners (a nonprofit housing subsidy program), AMCAL, FPI Management, and LifeSTEPS. Through this collaborative effort Emil was identified as a good candidate for the Housing for Health program which targets homeless individuals living on the streets or temporarily in a shelter and seeking permanent, supportive housing.

Immediately Emil was assisted with access to transportation, food resources, and help in re-establishing his public benefits. Most importantly, he was connected to quality and consistent medical attention for his diabetes and fading vision. Over the past 18 months Emil has received ongoing treatment and undergone several surgeries–he is now re-gaining his eye-sight!

Also during this time Emil set a goal for himself –to participate in and complete the Los Angeles Marathon. He began quietly training, alone and in private. He didn’t tell anyone about his goal. “I just wanted to see if I could accomplish this. That’s why I didn’t tell anyone.” As his eye-sight began to improve he would secretly run early in the morning or at night, training daily for the event, his incredible determination leading him toward his goal.

The day of the marathon finally arrived. Emil had invited a few friends from Hollenbeck Terrace to come watch; but unfortunately, as the race began no one was there to cheer him on. This disappointment did not stop Emil. His perseverance in training and his unbreakable will carried him through a 26-mile run and past the finish line!

When asked what motivated him to take part in such a difficult event Emil said, “As I ran, I just kept saying, ‘This is for me. This is for LifeSTEPS. This is for all the shelters I lived in.’ “

Emil presented his marathon medal to Estela to share with all the residents of Hollenbeck Terrace, that like him, enjoy a permanent roof over their heads every night. The medal now hangs prominently in the LifeSTEPS office, a symbol that invites others to believe that, with help, “impossible” goals can be accomplished by anyone–even by a man who was once homeless and nearly blind.

*Name has been changed

1 response to "From Near Blindness to Crossing the Finish Line- Hollenbeck Resident Accomplishes “Impossible” Goal"

  1. jessicaj says:

    I am so moved by the story. What an inspiration, this man and LifeSTEPS!

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