On pretty much any given Friday afternoon, you can find David Grech on his weekly stroll down the Burke-Gilman Trail to the Seattle Ronald McDonald House, where he helps keep sick kids entertained between doctors’ appointments at the hospital across the street.
The weekly volunteer shift is David’s way of giving back – something that seems to come to him naturally – as well as a critical part of his journey of healing from the trauma he’s experienced over the last decade. In fact, he says being able to volunteer his time with sick children is one of the best things to come out of the stability and support he’s found at Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing.
“Working there has made me so grateful to be alive,” he says. “I’ve been so blessed.”
A life upended in an instant
A former pharmacy technician, David says he found his true calling when he started a job in the kitchen at his church, St. James Cathedral, helping prepare nightly meals for neighbors in need. But in literally the blink of an eye, David went from serving people experiencing homelessness to being one himself.
David had just left a shift at the cathedral in 2016 when he was hit in a crosswalk by a distracted driver and thrown 40 feet in the air. He was rushed to Harborview Medical Center, where doctors gave him a 5% chance of surviving.
By some miracle, David did survive, though he remained in a coma for three weeks – and when he awoke, he had a traumatic brain injury.
“It was such a relief, because for the first time in a long time, I didn’t have to worry about ‘What am I going to do?’ ‘Where am I going to stay?’” ~David Grech, Sand Point Housing resident
And as he lay unconscious in his hospital bed, his life crumbled around him. He lost his apartment, and all of his belongings were moved into storage. His best friend died of cancer. His treatment led to $80,000 in medical debt that he had no hope of paying.
“I was unconscious. How was I going to work?” he says. “The bills were coming in fast and furious.” When David did regain consciousness, he had no place to stay, couldn’t work, and faced a long journey of recovery before he could even walk on his own again. He stayed for a while with one friend and then another, but eventually he ran out of places to go except his church.
“I thought I could handle it on my own, but I wasn’t doing too well,” he says. “After being in a coma, you just can’t keep track of stuff as well as you think you can, because you don’t have all your faculties.”
After spending a day hanging around aimlessly at St. James, David was approached by the cathedral’s longtime pastor, Father Michael Ryan, who asked if he was ok. David admitted that he didn’t know where he would sleep that night, so Father Ryan talked to staff at the cathedral, and they found him an available apartment at Sand Point Housing.
“When I moved in here, I thought, ‘Oh my God, this place is awesome.’ Just the view here is spectacular,” David says, gesturing at the sweeping vista of Magnuson Park from Santos Place, the apartment building where he now lives. “It was such a relief, because for the first time in a long time, I didn’t have to worry about ‘What am I going to do?’ ‘Where am I going to stay?’”
‘A place to build a foundation’
At Santos Place, David has an apartment where he can stay as long as he needs, along with the support of a case manager and a variety of other services and resources. He can get groceries at a weekly food pantry across the street, and he meets regularly with an onsite behavioral health counselor, which he says his insurance wouldn’t cover.
The stability of having an apartment of his own gives David a chance to volunteer again, allowing him to make new friends and bring joy to children going through difficult experiences. He’s also able to get back to the gym, which aids in both his physical and spiritual recovery.
“It makes me feel better about myself, like I’m improving my situation, and that this is going to be a good thing,” he says. “It’s like, ‘OK, I’m going to get through this.’ It just gave me some strength and a place to build a foundation. And I hadn’t had that structure in a while since my accident.”
Despite all the hardship he’s endured, David is deeply grateful for everything he has – something he regularly tells everyone at Sand Point, from the maintenance staff to the case managers.
And David has big hopes for the future. His goal is to go back to work, he says, perhaps as a counselor for sick kids.
“Every morning when I wake up here, I look outside, and it’s like, ‘David, you’ve been granted another day. Make the most of it.’ So I’m just trying to build on it every day,” he says. “And I just thank God for every reason that I have to be here, and the fact that I have another day to exist and get out and enjoy life. You never know what today’s going to present to you.”