Miami-Dade County

He spent his last birthday doing drugs and getting drunk. Now he has a reason to party.

Natasha Zarzosa, a staff member at the Miami Rescue Mission, and Ruben Swift, resident at the Miami Rescue Mission, during the group’s annual birthday party for homeless men and women on Wednesday, June 7, 2017.
Natasha Zarzosa, a staff member at the Miami Rescue Mission, and Ruben Swift, resident at the Miami Rescue Mission, during the group’s annual birthday party for homeless men and women on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. rkoltun@miamiherald.com

Ruben Swift marked his 53rd birthday by doing lines of cocaine and getting drunk in a Miami Beach park to dull the pain that had consumed him.

His life had spiraled out of control as his addiction to drugs and alcohol took over. The death of his wife of 27 years only compounded his problems. He had been living on the streets for nearly three years and said he “had nothing to celebrate” on Nov. 27, his birthday.

A month later, Swift muscled up the energy to go to Christmas dinner at the Miami Rescue Mission.

Broken, alone and scared, Swift expected no more than a place to sit and a hot meal in his belly. What he got was so much more.

“I was tired and I needed help,” he said. “They invited me in and gave me the support I needed to become the man I know I can be.”

On Wednesday, Swift, six months into his recovery, blew out the candle of his vanilla-frosted cupcake and smiled as everyone sang “Happy Birthday.”

“I can’t even remember the last time I celebrated a birthday,” he said, inside the cafeteria at the Miami campus, 2159 NW First Court.

Swift was not alone.

Nearly 1,000 people, many of whom still live on the streets of South Florida, took a break from the rain for a birthday party complete with balloons, cake, music and even a gift put together by the Miami Rescue Mission.

Marilyn Brummett, the vice president of development for the Miami Rescue Mission, said the Bombastic Birthday party — also held at the Hollywood and Pompano Beach campuses — is a way of telling everyone that “they are not forgotten.”

“The bottom line is we want everyone to know they matter and we care,” she said.

While the Jackson 5’s “I’ll be There” and Sister Sledge’s “We are Family” played, people ate chicken, scalloped potatoes and salad. Birthday cards made by students decorated the tables.

Tashay Scott, 39, proudly wore a party hat and danced. She said blowing out the candle on her cupcake made her feel like a kid again.

Scott, who is homeless, said she spent her Nov. 10 birthday “drinking and smoking marijuana.” She said the party made her forget everything for a while,

“Today, I just feel happy,” she said.

For Swift, the Rescue Mission has made him “a whole new man.”

Swift said he never thought he would be addicted to drugs and homeless. He was born and raised in Atlanta and had “good parents and a good upbringing.”

He got married, raised a family — he has two adult daughters and two adult sons — and had his own mobile detail business.

Slowly, drugs and alcohol began to take over his life. He lost his business and ended up on the street. His wife, Larisia, died of emphysema.

He traveled between Miami Beach and Broward by bus, working odd jobs to feed his addiction.

Meanwhile, he hid his addiction from his parents, children and grandchildren living in Atlanta.

“I felt shame and guilt,” he said. “I just couldn’t face them.”

When he entered the Miami Rescue Mission, people started caring for him, which helped him see his value. He attends AA and NA meetings regularly and works in the rescue mission’s front office. He proudly wears his cross and reads his Bible daily. He is working on reestablishing a relationship with his kids and has his eyes set on graduating from the 18-month program. From there, he wants to move to Atlanta to be closer to his family.

“They have opened my eyes to a new life,” he said. “I learned to love me again.”

To Learn More About the Miami Rescue Mission

Visit www.miamirescuemission.com or call 305-571-2273.

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