Formerly Berkeley Food & Housing Project
At the heart of our Men’s Shelter at the Hope Center is Raymond Brickhouse, Program Manager, whose inspiring journey gives him keen insight into the work he does. “I can connect with the clients. I can feel their pain,” says Raymond. “I’ve lived the shelter life, I know what people do. I’ve done it. I tell the clients in my house meetings, it’s the same thing every month – I’m not here to exit you, to put you back on the streets. My job is to support you in finding housing to the next level.”
Born in Denver, Colorado in 1968, Raymond was put up for adoption by his birth mother and eventually taken in by a couple who was significantly older. His adoptive mother was born in 1918.
Raymond grew up feeling a sense of not belonging and struggled to communicate with his parents. He says, “I basically grew up by myself… I found it hard to talk to my parents just because of the age difference.” This feeling of alienation was further compounded by his adoptive mother’s threats of sending him back. “But she never did,” he says. They eventually legally adopted him when he was 10. ”They gave me a good life,” he says. ”But I always wondered where I came from.”
School life was challenging, marked by bullying and feeling like an outsider. ”Childhood was difficult,” he says. ”I was bullied a lot. Picked on a lot.” Raymond was the first in his adoptive family to graduate high school, a milestone his adoptive mother’s biological son didn’t achieve. Despite these struggles, he learned to adapt well to different environments, a trait he has carried throughout his life.
In his late 20’s, Raymond was introduced to crack cocaine. “I was in my addiction for over 20 years,” he says. This addiction led him to travel frequently between Colorado and California, particularly San Francisco and Oakland. “I was like, I’m gay, I can make it in San Francisco. I learned really quick that I’m not fit for San Francisco,” he says with a laugh. “It rained everyday. There was no magic. So I met somebody and they were like, why don’t you come across the bridge to Oakland? It was so, so funny. We came across the bridge and the sun came out. It was just a whole different thing. I was like, ah, okay. This is it.”
Raymond bounced between Colorado and California for several years while in his addiction, experiencing periods of homelessness. “In 1994, I was diagnosed with AIDS,” he says. “I shouldn’t really be sitting here talking to you right now in this interview, between the drug use and not taking my medications. At one point in time I went to get blood work and my T-cell count was at zero. My viral load was over a million. I shouldn’t be here, but I made it through.”
“I stayed in and out of trouble, I never really got in big trouble,” Raymond says. “I’d stay in a little trouble, going to the county jail. I went to the county year after year after year. And then one year, they finally got me. And I was sent to the penitentiary.” Raymond received five years in Colorado for having $10 worth of cocaine in his pocket. “If I’d been arrested in California,” he said, “I would’ve been admitted to a diversion program. Instead, I was incarcerated for five years.”
“Now, this is where the story really begins,” says Raymond. In a striking twist of fate, he met his biological brother while incarcerated in Colorado, learning about his existence for the first time. This meeting was profound, as Raymond’s brother knew of him, but Raymond had no prior knowledge of his brother. “I always knew what my birth last name was,” he says. “It’s Stanton, S-T-A-N-T-O-N. In my culture, not too many Black people have the last name like that Stanton, we’re more Jones and Smith and Johnson’s and stuff like that.”
So one day when I was working at the medical department, I heard the name Stanton and perked up. He was placed in the cell above me, and the minute I was released for work, I ran straight up to his cell. I was like, ‘your last name is Stanton?’ and he was like, ‘yeah.’”
“The only reason I knew my mom’s name is because social security messed up and gave me one extra paper they shouldn’t have. So I was like, ‘You have anybody in your family named Catherine?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, that was my mom.’ And I said, ‘Well, you may not believe this…’ The next words out of his mouth were, ‘Oh, your name is Raymond. You were born May 16th, 1968. Our mom gave up for adoption and you’re my big brother.’”
Raymond pauses while telling the story. He breathes in, and keeps going. “Right there in the penitentiary. I’m on one side of the bars, he’s inside his cell. And those were the next words out of his mouth. It scared me because I’m like, wait a minute, you’ve known about me all this time and I know nothing. And Denver’s not a big city. It’s a small town. And he knew everything. I was like, ‘Whoa.’”
Meeting his younger brother led to Raymond reconnecting with his family in Denver, and learning where he came from. It was a powerful, transcendent moment in his life.
After being released from prison, he moved to Oakland and lived at the emergency housing shelter run by the East Oakland Community Project. There, he met Andre Green, the current Meals Program Manager at Insight Housing. The two initially clashed, but later formed a positive relationship.
Despite setbacks like losing all his personal documents and identification, Raymond began to rebuild his life, thanks to the help of others and his own resilience. “I started getting my life together,” he says.
December 3, 2009 is a day that Raymond will never forget. “A real person who’s been in their addiction… the day they stop using, it’s going to be a day they’ll never forget,” he says, recounting the story.
Raymond met with his case manager on December 2. “She was like, ‘Well, tomorrow’s payday Raymond, and what do you plan on doing?’ and I said, ‘Well, Julia, I’m going to get up. I’m going to get dressed. I’m going to catch the bus to Highland Hospital. I’m going to come to class, do what I need to do at class, then I’m going to leave. I’m going to go to my payee. I’m going to get some money. I’m going to go get some crack and I’m going to get high. If you want to test me tomorrow, my UA will be harder than a firecracker on the 4th of July, but I’m okay with that.”
“She kind of looked at me, like, did you really just say that? Well, you asked me a question, it’s the truth. So the next day, I got up, I went to class, I found some drugs, and I was getting high. I got back to where I was staying. It was so funny because everybody was high. It was 12am, everybody was up, all the lights were on. It was the beginning of the month, the first of the month. And I’m sitting up there, I’m high, I’m hanging out with all of them. And I just looked around. I was like, I’m done,” he says, with a shake of the head.
“I’m done. I woke up that next morning, December 4th. Haven’t smoked crack since then. December 3rd, 2009 was the last day I smoked crack. I just celebrated fourteen years that I’ve been out of my addiction.”
Raymond was staying in a transitional house and after he stopped using drugs, he started working with the staff there. One said, “Well, Raymond, in order for this to work, you’re going to have to figure some things out. So he said, ‘Why don’t you volunteer? Why don’t you go to school?’ and I was like ‘Okay.’”
The staff member helped him sign up for school, and he signed up for various volunteering opportunities. His involvement in various volunteer roles, including working at a pantry and eventually managing the front desk, laid the foundation for his career in social work. This period also saw him move into an SRO (Single Room Occupancy) housing. “That’s where I found out I was going to make it,” he says. “The SRO was infested with drugs. Somebody was always drunk, or high, whatever. I had blinders on at that point in time.”
After two years at the SRO, he made it through and ended up getting his own apartment in East Oakland. “I got my first work in the nonprofit field, at an HIV agency,” Raymond says. “I knew I wanted to work with people. At that point in time, I was like, if I am going to get my life together, I want to give back to the people that put up with me all the years I was in my addiction. I think that’s where my passion comes from.”
His role at the HIV agency evolved from a testing counselor to managing a support group called Pozitive Impact, which he grew successfully despite initial challenges. “By the time I left, I had 15-20 people coming to the group regularly. Alameda County had a space for me to use in their office building downtown. I was able to use that space and it was centrally located so everybody could come. I was actually on the planning council for people living with HIV/AIDS. I was elected co-chair of the council. Everything was uplevel it up, again and again,” he says with a smile.
Unfortunately, Raymond lost his job at the agency in 2018 due to budget cuts. “Everybody was acting all weird around me, and then my boss told me they would have to let me go,” he says. “I guess they thought I was just going to break down and run out and find the biggest whatever I could find to get high.” He laughs. “I was like oh, okay. I went right on my phone, putting in applications through Indeed. By the time I left for that day, I had three interviews set up.”
Over the next few years, Raymond worked at various organizations including Job Corps and Bay Area Community Services, being promoted from a Resident Advocate to Supervisor. He began working on-call at Berkeley Food & Housing Project in 2015, mostly on weekends, as a Housing Case Manager. In 2023, he accepted a full-time role as Program Manager for the Men’s Shelter at the Hope Center.
Raymond describes his approach at work, emphasizing empathy and understanding towards his clients, born out of his own experiences.
“I can connect with the clients,” he says. “I can feel their pain. I tell them in my house meetings, I kind of say the same thing every month – it’s like, I’m not here to exit you, to execute you, to put you back on the streets. My job is to support you in finding housing to the next level.”
His approach balances enforcing rules while understanding the underlying struggles of the residents. This balance is crucial in his role, especially when dealing with sensitive situations like potential exits. “I’ll be like, ‘How many times do I got to tell y’all I lived in shelter life? I know what goes on in the shelter. I know what people do. I’ve done it,” he says.
He strives to be a listener and a support for those who need to vent, acknowledging the importance of having someone to talk to. He explains, “Even if they want to come vent and they just want to vent and want me to listen, I’ll do that. We all need that.”
“When I see people getting housed, I’m so happy,” he says. “When I was at BACS and people were getting housed, I’d take them to get their furniture and buy their essentials, it just felt so good. I had at least two clients that really almost started crying because when I told them essentials, they thought it was simple little things. But they got everything – pots, pans, plates, towels, sheets, cleaning supplies, mops, brooms, comforters, pillows, TVs, vacuums, microwaves, whatever you need. Seeing people get housed is the best part of the job.”
Outside of his work at the Men’s Shelter, Raymond lives in a studio in Oakland with his dog, Kujo. “My apartment is beautiful,” he says, smiling. “I furnished it the way I wanted to furnish it. It’s more Kujo’s home than mine. We’ve got a big kitchen, big bedroom, a living room. I’m just happy. I wouldn’t change nothing right now. I wouldn’t move back to Colorado, Oakland is home. I changed my life out here.”
When asked about the future, Raymond wants to continue working in the field, possibly seeking further promotions. But more than career aspirations, it’s the simplicity and contentment in his day-to-day life that he cherishes… his bowling league, mornings at the dog park with Kujo, “the simple life.”
“I thought Colorado was home, but that’s just where I was born,” he says. “Home is where you’re happy at. Home is where you make your life, where you make a name for yourself. And Oakland is home. I changed my life out here. I wouldn’t change nothing right now. My life is so beautiful… My past is my past. I am the person I am today.”