"God is Good"
by: Stacie S. Gonzalez
Derrick Murphy, Jr., 28, is a single parent, veteran, business owner, and a security guard for Pikes Peak Library District. He’s also charming, articulate, and clean-cut. If you met Murphy, it might come as a surprise to learn he spent most of 2018 homeless. Why? Child support obligations in two states exceeded what he could afford. He lost everything, including his credit. But with the help of a local non-profit, Partners in Housing, and Murphy’s determination to create a sense of home for his family and see his business dreams through, Murphy is slowly getting back on his feet.
Hi, Derrick, it’s nice to meet you. Thank you for this conversation. I understand you were recently homeless.
I was, yes that’s correct.
Are you homeless now?
No, not no more. I'm in Partners in Housing right now.
Congratulations! I would like to talk about that, but first let’s help readers get to know you. Will you tell me a bit about yourself?
I own a coffee business called “Just a Cup - Coffee and Coffee Creamers.” We specialize in organic- based coffee creamers. We have our own bean, our own coffee. In 2016 - 2017 I had contracts around Colorado Springs with different places. That's how we made the bulk of our money before we went homeless.
Do you have family?
I do have family. I have kids. I have two boys and one girl. My youngest is five months, we just had her. I have one that is 4 and another one that is 9. My oldest is living in California, my youngest is here.
And are you married?
I'm not married. I have a fiancé.
Are you a native of Colorado?
I've been here for a little while. I'm actually from Germany. I was raised in Baltimore, Maryland and we moved here with my parents being in the military. I went to Widefield High School. My father retired after 20-25 years in the United States Army.
What was growing up like for you as a boy?
It was fun. I had a good family. My dad was amazing, my mom was amazing. My parents divorced when I was in sixth grade. Things changed after that. My mom was a single mom for a while. My father was still in the military at the time; he retired, and then got remarried.
Do you have brothers and sisters?
I have one sister. She's older than me. We are two years apart; her name is Julissa. She lives in Dallas, Texas.
So how did you get into the coffee business?
My mom has a friend that was in touch with Rod Smith, a partner with Organo Gold Coffee Company. Organo is an organic coffee marketing-type company. We got into the business. I started with Organo Gold and then I branched out and worked in to creating a system that everybody could buy and that’s when I introduced creamers.
Are you still pursuing that now?
I am. We’re just starting to kick it back off again. We created a website and we’re doing the marketing now. We’re letting people sample it and we’re making sure we still have that edge and that people are still interested. We’ll be taking orders from customers soon. We don't have an actual location because we're starting to build back up.
The name of the business is “Just a Cup, LLC.” If anybody wants to follow us, they can follow us at justacupLLC on all social media platforms.
Alright, so let's talk about how you became homeless. What happened?
So I pay child support for two kids. I pay for one in California and one in Colorado Springs. When I had my second son in 2015 me and their mother had an agreement that she wasn't going to put me on child support, and I was going to pay for the day care. When I paid for the daycare, things unfolded there that was not due to my end, and it just trickled down from there. When I was put on child support from my youngest son's mom, it raised up my amount that I paid monthly. It set back my child support in California and then I was hit in arrears. They levied our bank account and froze it for a month; we lost everything from there.
Can you talk numbers just to give people a sense for how much you were paying?
I pay $900 a month in child support, and then rent, on top of bills. It’s tough. It's hard. I know God is good though. I know we’ll make a way. I know what happened. I've been through a lot, so this right here is not gonna stop me from getting to the goal. Plus I just had my daughter. I love her so much. She's so beautiful. Every time I see her, it pushes me more to get to where we want to get. My lady has three kids of her own from a previous marriage as well. So, they come back and forth to the house. We have a big family and I have a lot on my shoulders, so I can't slow down. So I thank you for this.
I have so many questions.
I know. I have a big story.
You do. Where should we start? How about the first moment you realized things were crashing down.
I was married when I was in the Army. We got divorced and I did child support because of the divorce. I was paying that child support since 2011; it was already set in stone.
It was my youngest son's mom that did all this. The agreement was I was gonna pay for daycare to avoid child support. We agreed upon that at the courthouse. Fast forward some months. She finds some man, she gets remarried, and everything spirals from there. Once she got married, she acted like I didn't do anything - like I was never there - but I was there. I've been there since the beginning when my son was born. There was never a time she couldn’t drop my son off.
But the first moment for me, was when my son's stepfather made a comment at the daycare that I pay for, that he wasn’t going to bring my child back. It hit the director and the director called me. I used to work on Fort Carson. I used to work for the CYS NAF [Child Youth Services Non-Appropriated Funds]. I used to help plan programs and curriculums for teenagers and kids of all ages. That’s where I used to work when everything transpired after that comment my son’s stepfather made. Of course, I was furious and irate, so I went to confront it, and things blew up. My son’s mother took him out of daycare and when she took him out of daycare, she put me on child support. They ruled in her favor because I had no overnights because she did take him from me.
So, I was still paying for daycare even though my son wasn't there because that's the agreement we had.
Once she took him out, that's when everything started unfolding. She had a lawyer that ran me through the mud. They did not know the real reason why my son wasn’t in the daycare. I got hit with the biggest amount that you can think of and then she said that she couldn’t find a safe day care to put my son in off post. So, they gave her husband ownership over my son for the daycare on Fort Carson. They put my son back in the same day care that everything happened at, just up under her.
Then the daycare started treating me differently, even though I worked there. That's the thing: I worked for that company. So, they were letting this man pick up my son without permission. It was because he had the card from her, but they were supposed to check him at the door.
But after that child support [was ordered], everything was good and we was on top of our bills, but I didn't know I was collecting arrears for California the whole time I was paying child support here. The child support I pay here, at that time, was $522, and then it went up to like $600. I thought they would only take the amount I had, so if this is all I was getting, this was all you could get at the end of the day. That's when we woke up to a $100.00 legal fee in the bank account. We went to pay our rent and bills and we couldn't. We had a levy on the account because my name was on the account. It wasn't even my account; it was my lady's account. But because I was partnered to it, they froze everything. So, we had no money for like a month; we couldn't do anything. We had an eviction notice come. It was our second eviction notice; we couldn't back out of this one. So, I lost my place. We lost the place together because we were living as a family together. I lost both my cars. I literally lost everything. I don't really have anything to my name at this time except the business.
Alright, so you've got the daycare expense plus Colorado and California child support hitting you at the same time.
At the same time. On top of my family, on top of my lady’s kids and everything, and the business. I was just taking care of Life basically. We wasn't living the best, but it wasn’t the worst. It was decent. We was making it happen. After they granted the child support and put my son back in the day care, that's when things started changing. My son’s mother was asking me for (additional) amounts when I was paying the daycare. Daycare was $198 a month. That's a full-time day care. You don't find that around here. But then it went from $198 to $498 because her husband was in the Army and they went off his pay. So, she was asking me about money that she wanted me to pay her for the daycare because she said she wasn't getting full child support. I thought, “you kind of messed yourself over.” She should have just stuck to the $198, but I didn't have it at the time.
I had to leave the job at Fort Carson because it was a toxic environment after that. I had to have the director type a statement for me to show proof to the courts that this man really said he wasn’t going to bring my son back, but I didn't get the opportunity to present my evidence because I missed a lot of the court dates. I didn’t even know I was on child support. I was moving from my mom's house to a new place with my lady, so I didn't get that mail. It was a lot. It was a lot. I never really got to tell my story. Because when I was sitting in the courtroom, you’d tell people certain things and they don’t believe you, they think it’s a lie and that you’re just trying to get out of whatever trouble you’re in, but it’s a real story.
When you talk about being homeless, what was that like for you?
My situation was different. I think I was more angry in the beginning. I seen something I was building. I seen my family, you know, we’re trying to piece a blended family together at the end of the day because my fiancé has three kids and she’s full Mexican. Obviously, I'm not Mexican. I'm coming from a different background. So we’re trying to piece our family together and deal with our own internal things. And then on top of that I have to deal with the outside world: my kids and the child support and the stress and work and trying to find a job and run the business. It was just so much. So when I became homeless, in the beginning I was angry. I was real angry because like, “Why me? Why did this happen?” It could have been easy. It could have been simple. It could have just been avoided you know, but it happened, so here we are.
Homelessness for me was rough. We lived with my mom for two months after we lost our place and then my mom had to be out of her place because they sold the whole lot of town homes. So, we moved to Peyton with one of my closest family friends and we was living in one room there. Five of us in one room sleeping in one queen bed. It was pretty packed. We did that for eight months. I didn't get my youngest son during this time because I was homeless. It wasn't enough room. I told his mom about it and she told me to grow up or she’d say, “Oh, now you're in Peyton. You’re lying.” She’s very immature, so she was thinking everything beside the point. The point was: I'm homeless. I'm asking for your help. I needed my Social Security number to get into Partners in Housing because Partners in Housing asked for it.
September 3rd of last year is when we got into Partners in Housing. We went applied to the whole program. We had to wait. Now we’re in a house over off H Street. Our lease is up at the end of October, and we're about to move into a new house. I was trying to secure funding at the time for the rent and everything else. I still consider myself homeless because I don't have a home per se. I'm in Partners in Housing.
Partners in Housing is meant to build you up and help you get back on your feet, but I’m still dealing with child support. That’s why I was trying to get funding for housing and everything else. It took a while for me to accept that we were homeless. It took a while for me to understand that everything's gonna be okay. You know, you see kids laying in a bed and we all sleep in one bed. And I remember they had their own room. It's hard. It's a hard pill to swallow. Now I'm better. The business is picking back up. I'm back in the right headspace I guess you could say. Yeah because that was like the biggest thing - I got depressed. I got real bad. I got fat. [Laughter]
So were your kids in school at the time?
From March 2018 all the way until September 2018 we were homeless. We drove every day back and forth from Peyton to the Springs because I was working at this job. I was a cleaner and I was only working three hours. And I had to clean this whole library and clean some other buildings as well. But this is how I got the job in security because I used to clean this building as one of the day porters.
And the money you made probably paid for the gas to drive that far, right?
Oh, yes! It paid for the gas. It put so much wear and tear on our car going back and forth and then we had to go back and forth for the kids at school. So, our day literally consisted of getting up at like six o'clock in the morning, drive, drop the kids off to their school. Then we’d go to work here because [my fiancé] worked with me here. We’d leave here and go clean other buildings. Then we’d get the kids – the kids were all at different schools. We had to wait at a park for like an hour for one of the kids to get out of school and then drive back up to Peyton. By the time we got home it was like six o'clock at night. The kids would sit and do their homework, shower, and then we’re all in the same room. And then I’d leave to go clean at night. I got done around 1:00 a.m. just to get back up at six o'clock in the morning. We’d do that every day - every day – with one car.
Was it hard to maintain a sense of hope during that time or did your faith help?
I do have a strong faith. But I’m not going to sit here and lie and say that I did not get down or I did not get weak. I used to get angry and me and my lady fought a lot. I took my emotions out on the wrong people at the wrong time. And it wasn't every day, but it was when things would start to boil up that I'm ready to explode. That's when I’d explode at the wrong ones. It put a lot of strain between our family, it put a lot of strain between me and her, so it was just a trying time for everybody. I think the kids, like the oldest who is 14, understands what we've been through. So when I talk to him now, I always thank him. I tell my kids all the time, “Thank you guys, for like being there.”
The kids see how it is at two different houses. The one house is put together because their dad is in the Army. And then they come to us and we're going back and forth to Peyton and living in one room and I'm like, man, they don't know what's going on. They’re asking, “Oh, mom when are we going to get our own place? When are we gonna get our own room?” I hear that and it eats me up. So, there’s no way I can lie and say that I was good through the whole time during the trials and tribulations. Eight months is a long time being homeless. Yeah, a very long time, a very long time, but I'm happy that we are where we’re at now.
When did you know that you were going to be okay?
When Partners in Housing called us. At first, we were being denied - 50 to 60 people just telling us “no” because we had an eviction on our credit. So, we had to pay off that eviction, but it was hard to do on top of trying to find a place. We had to figure out what we were gonna put our money to. And at that time the eviction wasn't important when we were trying to get in to a place because we were homeless. Once you have an eviction on your credit, and people see that, it’s an automatic negative taste in their mouth.
When Partners in Housing called us, that's when we knew we was gonna be okay. We went through the application process with them. We had to wait a few weeks to see if we was gonna get accepted. Once they accepted us, we picked up the keys within the same week. That's when everything was like, okay, here we go, it’s up from here. I thank God for Partners in Housing because if we went anywhere else with the stuff we was going through, other than Partners in Housing, they would have evicted us again. We would have been back in the same situation again. So, I thank God for them. I thank God for being at the library because they helped me tremendously with myself and to get my story out. I would've never thought I'd be sitting down talking to you. I never thought I would be in the Discovery Magazine that they had here at the library. They sponsored me for the first issue to put my story out there. For me to be sitting here talking to you about the story is amazing.
What would you say to other single dads who might be struggling with similar issues?
That there’s hope. Honestly, everything's gonna be okay. Just keep your faith and keep your mind on the prize. I think the easiest thing is to get off focus and think about the things that got you there, and to blame people. That was my biggest thing. I blamed everybody I knew who got me to the situation of being homeless. I know I have a big part in that as well, but I always blamed everybody for like, “Oh, she did this and that happened here and that happened there.” You just got to let that go and focus on your prize, your vision.
How did you find Partners in Housing?
My friend that I was living with at the time we were homeless told us about it, and there was a commercial on the radio that talked about them and that they had just got a new grant from the VA. We was the first people to get approved through Partners in Housing that was referred through Rocky Mountain Human Services. It's a place for veterans downtown.
When you were struggling with bills, the courts, and homelessness, how could someone you don't know have helped you?
That's a good question. I don’t know how to answer that because strangers helped us. People blessed us with clothes for my daughter. Honestly, our closest friends threw my lady a baby shower, surprised her with half of the stuff that we honestly needed for our daughter. Some people here at the library blessed me personally in generous ways. So, strangers have helped us.
I think one of the biggest things is just, I think for me, it would have been nice to talk about it with somebody and not just with my significant other. It would have been nice for somebody to just listen to my story, because sometimes I think the best thing is just getting it out. Once you hold in all that pent-up anger, your emotions, or even depression, whatever the case may be, it starts to build up. I guess if I didn't have somebody help us my story would be different. Partners in Housing blessed us with a lot of things: furniture, you name it. But it was out of nowhere. I was shocked to see some of the people that blessed us. I'm like, I don't know you from Adam and Eve, but you know, I can see that God put this on your heart to bless us with this when we needed it, so it's different. I don’t really know what to say because we were blessed in a lot of ways.
So how has this experience changed you, if at all?
Oh, man! I’m more humble. When the business was doing well and we was making decent money, I never made money that way in my life. I'm not saying I was making a whole bunch of money, but we was making more than I've seen in one sitting for myself. It changed me. It made me feel like I had more power. I was more entitled; it made me cocky. Everything I have been through has been such a humbling feeling.
It has been an eye opener. It has been a ride. It has been an experience. I’ve never really sat down and thought about it, but it's been a trip. It made me more hungry. My drive is out the roof now. I look at my daughter and I'm like, “I can't fail you.” We have such a big family. I have people looking up to me. I have teenagers in my house. The age group in our house is four months, four, seven, nine, eleven, and thirteen, so it's like a huge age range. My fiancé is older than me, so I get to see it all happen. I see what they need and I'm like, “I got to give you that need. I got to be able to give you this world. I want to leave a legacy behind.” We've been through so much. There's no reason why the Murphy name should not be a big name by the time I leave this earth.
I'm just more focused. I believe in God, even the more. I always believed in God; I always went to church. That was just what I stand for. But you get older, you lose your way, or life happens.
I’m doing the math and you had a baby while you were homeless. That must have been terrifying.
Oh, it was. It was! There were such arguments every day. It was bad. It was really bad. We split up a couple times – me and my lady - during the time she was pregnant. I was like, “How are we going to afford this?” There was one point in time, to be honest, where I was really like, we can't have this baby. Of course, it didn't happen. Obviously. I thank God it didn't happen because I love my little girl. It’s our only girl. We have no girls in the house, only boys. So, it was a blessing and everything after that just fell into place. Everything now is falling into place like it’s meant to be. That has helped my faith even more - to believe anything's possible.
I want to build my coffee business. I want to build the business and leave it behind. I want to build other businesses. I ‘m an entrepreneur. I have a lot of ideas and endeavors that I want to build so I can leave them behind to my kids so we can leave behind a legacy.
So now that you've experienced being homeless, what do you think about people who don’t understand it and criticize the homeless?
That’s a hard question because I can see both ways. Being homeless, I can say you can't be quick to judge a book by its cover because you don't know what anybody's going through. You don’t know how they got there. I work at the library and I work with the population, so it's different. Coming here I have more care for the people that are homeless. I have more of a soft spot for the homeless. Like I know my story is crazy, but I know these people at the library – their story’s probably 10 times worse than mine.
I feel there shouldn’t be more things in place to help people that are homeless; I just feel like the right things should be given to help the people that are homeless. In the library, we have a social worker and she does a lot. She does an outstanding job. And I learned that there’s a lot of mental illness when it comes to people that are homeless. We see it in here. I feel like that's the biggest thing that people need - programs to help the homeless with their mental state. That's the first thing you lose, you know, not the material things. When I became homeless, my mental state was just going. I was losing myself. I was not the man sitting before you right now. I was angry beyond measure. I was depressed beyond measure. I wanted to drink more. There was so much I wanted to do that was outside of the norm for me. So, I think the biggest thing for me being homeless and seeing people that’s homeless, it's all about your mental state.
So there’s the trauma that led to homelessness and then the trauma of homelessness.
I think the hardest thing that I learned being homeless, even being housed in Partners in Housing, is you still gotta deal with the stuff that happened like back when we lost our apartment, back when we lost the car. The bills ain’t disappeared. Those debts ain’t disappeared, so we have to take care of that debt on top of taking care of new debt. You are always playing catch-up. It’s one of the hardest things. Being homeless is like one of those feelings like everything is on top of you. Everything's on top of your shoulders and you're like, okay, I just removed this, and then here this comes, and I’ve got to take care of this. It just doesn't stop.
Did the schools know what was happening? How did they work with your children?
The schools didn't know anything that was going on. A lot of people didn’t know what was going on. We kind of just disappeared off the face of the Earth to be honest. If you was close in our circle, then you knew where we was at. Even if you was in our circle you still kind of didn't know what we was truly going through. The schools didn’t know at all. The kids would get there on time, they’d get picked up on time. There was never nothing affecting them to not be able to focus in school or affect their ability in school. We helped them with their homework every single night. We got there in the mornings. We got there earlier if they needed a tutor. There was never a gap is service for the boys to go to school.
Do you feel safe now?
Um, kind of. We are moving into a new place on October 5. Once we sign that lease then I’ll feel comfortable. Then I’ll know I did it. It’s a 4-bedroom, 3-bath house so everybody can be comfortable. It's gonna be a lot of space. That's like my biggest thing: for everybody to be comfortable. I’d sleep in the car for all I care. I care about myself, but I don’t really care where I'm at. I can handle business, but my family … they got to be in a home. They got to have a roof over their heads. It’s about to get cold. The wintertime is coming. I gotta make sure a good Christmas comes around, birthdays are in October, and I want a place where they can grow up and call home. That's like the biggest thing. I want them to have that family environment. I want them to have that family life, and to be able to interact with their parents and have a good time. You got family night and movie nights - I remember those nights when I was a kid. I want the same thing for them.
You’re describing your concept of home.
Those are the things you think about because you’re always comfortable at home. No matter what, no matter what you call home, you’re always comfortable at home; and we're not comfortable. But once we sign the Partners in Housing lease, that house will be our home.
If you could ask for three things right now that would help you with your transition to housing or just in general, what would they be?
People to support the business more. That's the number one thing: support the business more. Um, funding for sure. Not that you’re looking for money all the time, but funding for sure. And furniture for the new house. Thank you. That’s a good question. I never really thought about something like that.
I'm curious about the different terms people use to refer to people who are experiencing homelessness. Is there an appropriate word for that general population or is it case-specific? Are there any that turn you off?
The biggest one would be “bum.” I feel like “transitioning” is a good word because that's what you really are doing. You are transitioning. Like you said, it is different on a case to case basis because there are some people on the streets dealing with different things. I guess the word would be “bum,” or anything that’s negative towards the idea of being homeless. I think it's wrong and that's because you just don't know what anybody's going through. I had a business, and in the blink of an eye I lost everything. I literally lost everything and I know I'm not a bum. I know that it can happen to anybody. I know there's people in this library I’ve talked to where just one decision has altered everything they had or changed their whole direction in life. And I feel like that’s what life is: making decisions. Everybody doesn't make the right decisions. You don't know what impact the decision you make is going to have years from now or the next day. There's something I probably did five years ago that made me in this position I am in right now so you don't really think about the small decisions you make and how the small decisions you make actually build up to bigger consequences or build up to bigger endeavors in life.
Where would you like to be in a year's time?
Ohh! In a year’s time I would love to be sitting in my own coffee cafe. In a year it would be amazing to have my own coffee shop. We want to make a coffee creamer bar, so it would be a place where people can come and relax and have the coffee shop feel and the coffee shop lay out. I want people to be able to sit down at a bar and I’ll make your coffee for you. I'll make your latte for you and you can sit there and discuss your day, or you can watch whatever is on the news or whatever. I just want a comfortable, relaxing place that people could come to and have a good conversation and a cup of coffee.
Is there anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't covered?
I think there should be more resources for men in Colorado Springs who are going through legal problems or situations that do not have the money to buy a lawyer or don’t know which direction to go to get started. I was looking for a lot of legal help during the time I was going through. I'm still looking for legal help. If there is any pro bono lawyers, please come find me. [Laughter]