Warren Peeler was tired. He was tired of sleeping on the streets and in abandoned warehouses. He was tired of hustling. He was tired of selling and using drugs. On September 6, 2000, Peeler walked into The Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center and sought treatment for substance abuse.
Introduced to drugs by his father at a young age, Peeler had spent a large portion of his life battling addiction. He was homeless by 13 and turned to selling drugs at 15. He even sold drugs for his father.
“Nobody cared about me,” he said. “The only friends I thought I had were me, myself and I.”
Salvation Army cadet Nancy Powers also entered the Harbor Light Center that day in September, but she started her field training. Powers, and her husband Merrill, were assigned by The Salvation Army to the Harbor Light Center because they had previous training with substance abuse treatment.
“I remember the first time we met,” Peeler said. “After I completed the initial rehab program, I worked in the kitchen. I remember her coming through the line. I would walk around the counter and bring her food.”
Powers remembers Peeler fondly as well. “He was always talking and joking. And he had a great smile,” she said. “He truly was a leader, too. On his first day he already had half of the guys in treatment following him.”
“There were times when I didn’t want to go to my meetings or do what was required of me, and Major Powers would pull me into her office or into the chapel and talk to me about my reasons for being at Harbor Light,” Peeler said.
“She explained that I needed to focus and commit myself to sobriety…”
There’s a responsibility to, and a love for, each other. Powers had the difficult task of telling Peeler that his mother died. “We went to the chapel and she told me my mom died. And that she had died the year before—I didn’t even know,” Peeler said. “Major Powers helped me through all the emotions and gave me a lot of love and support.”
“The hardest part when facing issues like this is teaching people its OK to feel,” Powers said.
Powers helped Peeler put a plan in place to prevent a relapse during the most challenging of times. They identified what activities he would focus on as he dealt with his grief, steps to take when sadness hit, and who he would call when he just needed to talk to someone. “Anything to help me through and not use,” Peeler said. “Because there were times that I had money in my pocket and I could have just left.”
Seventeen years later, they’ve seen the ups and downs. Peeler saw Powers start a program for families of the men in treatment and establish the Mobile Feeding & Outreach Unit to bring a hot meal every day to Chicago’s homeless at 29 different stops in Chicago. He was there as she and her husband, Merrill, cut the ribbon on the new Salvation Army Freedom Center campus, which houses the Harbor Light Center, a community-based corrections program and a corps community center. “She’s taken these programs and made them her own,” Peeler said. “She’s grown so much.”
Powers points out Peeler’s transformation. “I’ve seen him broken and hungry. He’s worked really hard and struggled. And ultimately, he has surrendered to the Lord. He surrendered all of it and has grown.” Powers brags that he’s the perfect spokesman for the Harbor Light program.
“He advocates for the clients. He stands ready to help anybody.”
Today, Powers is the Program Development Officer for The Salvation Army Freedom Center. Peeler works on the Mobile Feeding & Outreach Unit providing hot meals and a hand to those who are fighting the same demons he conquered 17 years ago.