Working to recover from tragedy: Derek’s story

January 7th, 2019
Derek Talbott at Colors Restaurant, where he completed a food-service training program last November.

“There, but for the grace of Godgo I.”

Derek Talbott knew this proverb, and knew it rang true. In the abstract. But he never suspected its meaning would become all too real. In his own life.

“I was aware of people living on the streets and staying under viaducts, but I didn’t imagine that could be my situation – until it was,” Derek said. “There were days when I didn’t know if I’d have anything to eat. But I never gave up. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, my faith told me.”

Derek had been self-sufficient most of his life. He is 60 now. He grew up in Cleveland, graduated from the University of Cincinnati in business communications, and then worked in sales for companies in several different states. Then his parents desperately needed his help. Both were diagnosed with terminal cancer. Derek returned to home to care for them.

Derek’s parents died six years ago. He remained in the family home and worked for a package delivery company. A year after his parents’ passing, an electrical fire destroyed the home. The fire began while Derek was sleeping. He fled the blaze and collapsed outside. His lungs suffered permanent damage from smoke inhalation.

Having lost everything he owned, and feeling lost himself, Derek decided to leave Cleveland and come to southwest Detroit, where his cousin lived.

“I was depressed and I needed a new start,” Derek said. “I also wanted to be close to the family I had left.”

Derek hoped to recover his mental and physical health in due time and acquire stable housing and steady work. His cousin, however, had his own serious health troubles, exacerbated by substance abuse. Before long, these problems would claim his cousin’s life. Derek was now alone, without a place to stay, and without the means to support himself.

Derek spent most nights in a shelter. During the day, he sought food and warmth at drop-in centers. He also accessed Southwest Solutions’ Waterman Outpatient Clinic for adult counseling services.

“The counselors helped me work through my depression and the tragedies that happened, one after another,” Derek said. “I also told the counselors of my desire to work.”

Derek’s counselors referred him to the Individual Placement and Support – Supported Employment (IPS-SE) program at the Waterman Clinic. The IPS-SE program provides job leads, support services, and resources to help individuals gain and sustain employment. Last year, the program engaged more than 100 clients, resulting in 54 job placements. Derek connected with Manuel Partida, an Employment Specialist with the program.

“Derek was committed to working and we helped him get maintenance jobs at senior centers and other jobs,” Manny said. “Even when he was staying in a shelter, he worked in the daytime.”

Derek eventually secured housing at the Pablo Davis Senior Living Center in southwest Detroit. He continues to live there, paying rent through his Social Security Disability Benefits. Last summer, Manny connected Derek with Infinia Staffing, which placed Derek in a part-time restaurant job. To enhance his pay and his job prospects, Derek enrolled in a 16-week training program at Colors Restaurant run by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan (ROC-MI).

“When Derek entered the program, he was all about business, but he still lacked some confidence because there were many new things to learn,” said Allen Lee, Project Coordinator with ROC-MI. “Derek is determined, trustworthy and resourceful. He caught on through repeated practice, and he earned his certificates.”

Derek currently works about 20 hours a week, taking the bus to and from his job at the International Banquet Center in Greektown. Because of the damage to his lungs and chronic back pain caused by scoliosis, the physical demands of the restaurant job make it difficult for him to work full-time. He hopes to attain an office job in the near future. He also plans to return to school and earn a degree in social work.

“I have a deeper empathy because of what I went through,” Derek said. “I also feel that I am stronger spiritually. I value things and moments that others take for granted, and that I once took for granted, too.”


Our IPS-SE program is supported through Medicaid billing. For more information about the program, email Barbara Gray, IPS-SE Program Manager at Southwest Solutions.

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