An organization committed to providing awareness of people typically living on the streets in the Denver community and providing opportunities to serve them as both equals and friends has chosen Derrick Yearout, a homeless, drug addict to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. Derrick Yearout – known as “Tree” on the streets – is the second homeless person chosen to go on pilgrimage to Rome through Denver Homeless Ministries (DHM). Clarissa “Glitterbear” Salazar was the first person to go on that pilgrimage to Rome in 2014.
DHM offers the pilgrimage as a way to motivate these homeless people devoted to changing their lives. This year’s pilgrimage which lasted from Oct. 19-22 consisted of Yearout, trip organizer Tanya Cangelosi, and Fr. Michael O’Loughlin, a Ruthenian priest of the Eparchy of Holy Protection of Mary of Phoenix.
Derrick Yearout who has come a long way from his homeless, drug-addicted days says pilgrimage to Rome has given him a new outlook on life.
“Do I feel that the trip to Rome made a difference in my life? Yes, it has allowed me to look at how I used to be and how I am now by opening my eyes to the world as it is, and not how I thought it was,” Yearout told CNA Oct. 27, shortly after returning from Rome. In a brief bio before the trip, Yearout said he wanted to go because “it’s a once in a lifetime thing for me to do, I would love to see what’s it like there. It might make a difference in my life, I don’t know.”
The verdict from Yearout after the trip – it definitely has.
Before getting involved with DHM, Yearout spent his youth being transferred from different foster care homes and group homes until he landed on the streets at 18, where he has lived his life until now.
In 1970 both of his parents were patients at Pueblo Psychiatric Hospital, where they met, fell in love and – due to a lack of security,his mum got pregnant.
After he was sent to foster care, Yearout said he “acted up,” and was placed in the children’s unit of Fort Logan State Hospital.
“It was like hell, I was 5 years old. I stayed there until I was 7 years old,” he said. It was after that that he ran away, and was picked up again only to be put in a lock down unit until he was 10.
He was then transferred to Colorado Christian Home, where he stayed until he was 14. That’s when he first came downtown on the run and met the other street kids who soon became the family he never had. Though he rose up the street ranks fast by stealing food to feed himself and his street family, Yearout said that it hasn’t been easy, and that he was never given a real chance in life, and has never been to school.
On the streets, “there are no safe places to sleep. Some nights I would sleep in a dumper to stay warm along with all the trash. And trying to find food was just as hard; no one would just give me food, I had to earn it by pan-handling – that means I had to beg for money to feed myself.”
However, with the help of Tanya Cangelosi, DHM and the Colorado Coalition for Homeless people, he is off the streets, and got an apartment about three months before coming to Rome. Yearout – who had been toothless – was also able to get a full set of false teeth when he returned. When asked why she thought Yearout would be a good candidate to go to Rome, Cangelosi, his trip organizer said she believes that God is the one who chose him.
Even though it’s too early to see what the fruits of the trip will be for Derrick yearout, Cangelosi said for Clarissa Salazar – the first homeless person to make DHM’s pilgrimage to Rome – her whole life has turned around.
“She regained full custody of both of her children two days after we returned. Within a few months she was able to get a job and has been working at the same place since,” and attends a Christian Church every week.
Cangelosi said Salazar has also given up most of her street friends in order to “be a mom and raise her children in the path that they should go.”
“She is an amazing woman that I look up to…I believe she has broken cycle of homelessness for herself and her family.” Cangelosi said.
As for Yearout, Cangelosi trusts that the bond of friendship he formed with the priest who accompanied them, Fr. Michael, will play an important role in the months ahead.
“This trip Derrick questioned Father Michael over and over and over again about becoming Catholic,” but before the trip “all he talked about, to us, was the Catholic conspiracy theory. So all in all, the Lord knows what he’s doing.”
Yearout told CNA that one of the things he wants to do now that he’s back in Denver is “learn more from the Catholics and see how to make my life more like the time I spent in Rome!”
While in Rome the group attended one of Pope Francis’ Wednesday general audiences. Yearout said that what impressed him about the Pope was the way he helped the homeless.
“He did not turn anyone away. It was like a warm feeling inside when I was near him.”
Cangelosi said that while she expects Yearout to stay off the streets, he will also most likely continue helping those who still live there, “especially by his example of improving his life.”