Invisible Faith: A disabled Bradenton man finds his home with the help of Sharing Season
Stacy Peterson lay in his deck chair at the foot of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, watching the water sparkle in the moonlight.
While feeling sleepy in the hot weather, the 58-year-old decided to pack his things. It would have been better for him to settle into the safety of his locked car, before going to sleep.
Stacy is no longer the active young man he once was.
It was hard for him to believe it, but many decades before the pacemakers and strokes—before his life on the streets and his stints in prison, before the devastating loss that led him to become interested in drugs—he was the favorite son of an average woman. A first-class military family, with the whole world ahead of him.
Raised by a strict but loving, Bible-minded mother devoted to the Baptist church, he rebelled.
He added: “I didn’t take it seriously.” “I could kick my ass for not listening to my mom. She tried to warn me.”
It broke his heart to know how much grief he had caused her all those years. If he had followed her advice, he would not have been sleeping in the front passenger seat of his 2015 Chrysler 300, disabled and homeless.
At a breaking point when he had nowhere else to turn, until that night last summer, he devoted himself to prayer—trusting in God through the kind of “invisible faith” his mother had preached so long ago.
Now, as he was trying to get comfortable with his blanket, comforter and pillow – leaving the car running to turn on the air conditioning – he heard his cell phone ringing. He did not recognize the caller. She didn’t know him either.
Even though it was a wrong number, this call would change Stacy’s life.
Stacy was born in Bradenton and grew up in a large, passionate family.
The first grandchild – for only several years – Stacey was frequently passed around by his nine aunts and uncles on his mother’s side.
He never wanted for anything, as his mother and father were high-ranking members of the military, and his maternal grandparents were bank executives. But he was determined to chart his own course. Despite family pressures, he decided that military life was not for him.
“I was stubborn and spoiled,” he recalls. “I was one of those kids, I just wanted to make my way, so if I found something I really liked or inspired me, that would be my goal.”
But before he could, he and his high school sweetheart learned that she was pregnant with twins. Difficult times followed, as his girlfriend, who was white, was ostracized by her relatives, who opposed her relationship with Stacey because he was a young black man.
With the help of Stacy’s family, the two finished high school and began raising their twins. Two other children followed him.
In his twenties, Stacy worked good jobs, including with Tropicana.
But tragedy struck him at an early age when his girlfriend died of cancer.
“This was my whole world,” he said. “I got into this depression.”
Out of anger and grief, Stacey was left to raise four children alone.
One night, at a social gathering, he saw a woman cutting lines of cocaine. She said it was her escape, the area where she felt free from pain.
“When I explained this sensation, I wanted to experience it,” he recalls.
From there, Stacey delved into a cocaine addiction through his 30s – a long period marked by stints in prison.
And every time, his mother hugged his children and tried to bring him back to the straight path.
While she was strict about “the devil and sin,” his mother was also supportive.
“When I went to prison and stuff, my mom was more upset and depressed than anything else,” he said. “You never judged me, and neither did my father.”
Fifteen years ago he got sober and has stayed sober. But by then, he knew a lot of damage had been done.
In 2015, he had his first heart attack, followed by another heart attack, as well as two strokes, leaving him disabled. During his illness, his parents took turns taking care of him.
By 2020, back on his feet and living with his mother, he remained in Florida when she moved to Texas. He was unable to join her, and was still on probation for punching a security guard who grabbed his hair in a case of mistaken identity.
Stacy’s life was stable again. He was able to own an apartment on his own. But then the building was sold, and Stacey had to go.
At first he thought he would be fine. He had $10,000 in his savings account. Surely, he thought he’d find something nice and quick.
But before he knew it, Stacy was caught in the middle of a regional housing crisis — one that is particularly stressful for the disabled and elderly living on fixed incomes.
In his research, many apartments not only required deposits of $5,000 or more and first and last month’s rent, but also had minimum income requirements that he couldn’t meet.
Stacy continued searching, and was soon forced to live out of hotels. Within six months, his savings were exhausted.
By mid-2022, he was sleeping in his car. His mother and uncle sent help, but even so and with his disability income, he didn’t come close to covering the area’s rent.
“I couldn’t find anywhere decent. I just kept praying,” he said. “I don’t need a new deal or anything fancy. “I just need a roof over my head.”
During his regular visits to his children, he refused to bother them with his problems. They had their lives to live and their own expenses.
“When I went through my poverty, I kept it to myself,” he said. “I never complained to anyone about what I went through.”
But his mother knew. Every night in his car before he went to sleep, they prayed together by phone.
Stacey was feeling desperate. Between doctor visits and multiple hospital stays due to heart problems, he routinely went to Bradenton Hospital turning point.
Sometimes he was at the nonprofit several times a week to inquire about leads with his “guardian angels” — case manager Liz Obando and care navigator Jessica Godfrey.
“I’ve checked in more times than you could ever know,” he said.
Both women were struck by Stacey’s upbeat personality. Godfrey was amazed at his restless ability – even though she could see that his legs were in bad shape and he was in obvious pain.
The housing crisis was taking a toll on many of the families they worked with. But for someone disabled by health issues, they knew that life on the street was especially dire.
“Mr. Peterson never gave up hope,” Mr. Obando said.
But behind his kind demeanor and generosity, Stacey was falling apart. The cold months in his car were bitter. Then last summer, a heatwave made breathing difficult.
One night his car crashed.
As he emptied himself in prayer, he asked God to move in his life. He felt himself releasing the anger and hatred that still gripped his heart.
“I prayed to him and told him that I was ahead of the invisible faith and that I was one hundred percent dependent on him and no one else,” he recalls.
In late July, he received some good news: Turning Points had secured a disability housing voucher. They can also click Sharing season On his behalf to get rental assistance to set it up.
But Stacey still needed to find a place to live where he could use the voucher.
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The next evening, Saturday, as Stacy was getting ready to sleep in his car, his phone rang.
Although the number was wrong, the woman mentioned a duplex she was renting in Wheatfield in southern Manatee County.
After Stacy shared her situation with her, the woman said she would accept the housing voucher. Within a week — when Turning Points set the wheels in motion on the voucher plus $2,000 in assistance from Season of Sharing — Stacey was able to move on.
“I never imagined that God would change my life in this way,” he said.
As the holidays approached, and on his feet for the first time in a long time, he was saving money again. But that was not enough to go visit his mother. He told her that maybe next year, after he was off probation.
Then, a week before Christmas, Stacey was heading to his car, headed to see the doctor, when he realized he had forgotten his phone. After he went inside to get it, he turned towards the front door, and stopped in his tracks. There at the threshold stood his mother.
“I was about to have a heart attack,” he said.
Stacey burst into tears, and his mother – looking around at his new surroundings – cried too.
“She started crying and hugged my neck and told me she was proud of me and that she loved me and she was so happy that her prayers were answered,” he said.
Over the next week, the two went Christmas shopping, bought a tree and gifts and decorated the house. Then on Christmas Day, Stacey was in for another surprise – when a collection of tables and chairs appeared in his large backyard.
“All of a sudden, oh my God, they started rolling,” he recalls. Between thirty and forty people attended – his aunts, uncles, cousins, children and grandchildren.
In the backyard, his mother sat in the outdoor kitchen she had rented.
Urgent need: Sharing Season faces a major fundraising challenge amid a historic need in Sarasota, the Manatee
She and his aunt prepared snow crab, king crab, blue crab, fried fritters, crab cakes, and shrimp on the grill.
“We had everything,” he added.
In the weeks after his mother returned home, Stacey had time to think.
He feels blessed by everyone who helped him get to a comfortable place.
Along with stable housing, he is enjoying his sobriety and now being able to think clearly and rebuild.
“I am preparing myself so that my children and grandchildren can follow in my new steps, not the old ones,” he said. “I like this life much better than the life I had before.”
Most of all, he is grateful for “invisible faith” — the handiwork he says he now sees — and for the two things that have helped him through his long, arduous journey.
“God’s love and mother’s love, there’s nothing better than that,” he said.
how can I help
Sharing season It was created 22 years ago as a partnership between the Herald Tribune and… Community Foundation of Sarasota County For emergency funds for individuals and families on the brink of homelessness in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties. There are no administrative fees and no red tape – every dollar donated goes to families in need for assistance with rent, utility bills, childcare and other expenses.
You can donate to the season of sharing by going to cfsarasota.org Or call 941-556-2399. You may also mail a check to Season of Sharing, Community Foundation of Sarasota County, 2635 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, FL 34237.
This story comes from a partnership between the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Sandra Amrhein covers Participation season campaign, along with issues surrounding housing, amenities, childcare and transportation in the area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on the Sarasota Herald-Tribune: A disabled Bradenton man finds his home with the help of Sharing Season