Gibby came into Rick’s life over a cup of coffee. How many significant people might be in our lives if they came in through something as simple as a beverage and never left? “Be careful who you hand coffee to,” Rick says, chuckling.
Rick describes his former self as a “hope-to-die drunk.” However, in seasons of sobriety, he helped others to pursue a healthy lifestyle. Rick ran a halfway house in Tucson, helping men get their lives back together. “I helped guys do their part,” he says. “But all of a sudden I was the one needing help.” Rick’s son David visited his father in Santa Barbara and asked, “Why don’t you become the man you used to be?”
When Rick heard that question, he really heard it. He let it resonate. And then, he decided to change. Rick went through detox, and then insisted on going to a local shelter, Casa Esperanza, immediately after. People advised him against it, told him that no one “makes it” if they go to Casa right after detox. To this he replied, “You don’t know my God.”
Casa Esperanza has been a place of refuge for many. No place is perfect, but hope can come even through imperfection. Rick first met Gibby at Casa. It was September 2010. People called him “Stinky.” When Rick heard himself chuckle at that nickname, he was disgusted. Both Rick and Gibby were recovering from drug and alcohol addictions, and each had lived on the streets for almost a decade. Ken Williams had coffee with Gibby every morning, and one morning Rick decided to join them. After that, Rick says, “Gibby was right in front of me. And you can’t say no to God.”
What began as a morning rhythm led Rick to help Gibby with his daily meals and showers. As the end of winter shelter at Casa Esperanza quickly approached, Rick asked what would happen to his friend after April 1st. Gibby suffers from short-term memory loss. He often begins walking, keeps going, and loses his sense of direction completely. Rick was quick to address the real issue: Gibby would be extremely vulnerable on the streets and would struggle to survive, as many others do every single day. Ken Williams was one of the people at Casa who gave time and effort to helping Gibby – he and Rick began figuring out options for Gibby, and Rick has never forgotten Ken’s help.
The Vulnerability Index through Common Ground had taken place a few months prior, listing Gibby as #69 on the county’s survey of one hundred most vulnerable people. Through a well-timed and surprising turn of events, Gibby received a housing voucher and Rick became his legal caretaker. Jeff Shaffer suggested the Village Apartments on the Westside of Santa Barbara, owned by the Turner Foundation. Jeff began setting up meetings and advocating for Rick and Gibby to move in. After many meetings with Housing Authority, Jeff, and others, Rick and Gibby moved into an apartment at the Village.
Since living at the Village, Rick has taken on the role of full-time caretaker, quickly correcting anyone who may pity him for his job. “Gibby teaches me so much about joy and thankfulness,” he says. “He gives thanks for the little things, when I forget to give thanks for the big things.” Rick has continued to grow into someone that he’s proud of. He helps to empower others at Pershing Park, shares his story boldly, and continues to care for Gibby, which he views as his calling. He has a deep relationship with pastor Hans Kistner of First Baptist, who has stayed by his side for Rick’s entire journey. Not only has the opportunity for housing likely saved Gibby’s life, it has reunited Rick’s family. He and his wife Kim have reconciled. She now lives in the apartment with Rick and Gibby, assisting her husband with Gibby’s caretaking. Rick’s son has also come back into his life, which Rick describes as one of his greatest joys.
Rick’s and Gibby’s friendship gives perspective on how deeply we as human beings need community and relationship. Rick’s loyalty testifies to perseverance and possibility. The story of these two men can resonate with those who are housed, un-housed, nomadic – anybody. As the tune so sweetly goes, we do get by with a little help from our friends.
By: Kyli Sessions