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Mark Larson: His speedy recovery
Unlike many who face homelessness and experience poverty, StreetWise Vendor Mark Larson says he was blessed with a very happy childhood. “I came from a real good neighborood called Beverly on the southwest side. I went to Catholic school and it was a real good upbringing. I had good parents and a good family,” Mark said.
Mark went on to Lawrence University to receive a bachelor’s in industrial psychology. “I was pretty much a sales rep and doing marketing for most of my life… until I screwed it up with drug addiction and alcoholism. Nobody wants to hire you when you’ve got a background like that,” Mark said.
As he explained, Mark’s happy life was quickly turned upside-down when he encountered personal demons in drugs, addiction and theft and eventually landed in prison.
“I was a drug addict and it was hard beating that… it was real hard to get over that,” Mark said. Despite the intense struggle, Mark did eventually find the strength to say “no” to drugs because of the people who were there to support him in his recovery. “My friends and family and hanging around the right people [helped me overcome my addiction]. I finally straightened out. It took me awhile… took about 10 years before I cleaned. And it’s thanks to friends and family,” Mark said.
Now that he’s clean and ready to make positive changes in his life again, he has several immediate goals. “I want to find a full-time job with a steady paycheck. I could do a lot of things [as far as employment is concerned]. But I need to clean up my background, because it’s all non-violent. That’s another short-term goal,” Mark explained.
Though Mark’s personality is very humble and a touch shy, he’s been able to build great relationships with his customers. “People are saying ‘hi’ to me now and I have a lot of regulars, especially in the morning,” Mark said.
It also makes Mark feel really good when his customers notice a change in his schedule. “It’s like your own business and you’ve got to be there. If you miss a couple of days, they start asking… people were asking me [where I was] at Starbucks. They thought maybe I got a new location, but I actually just had a really bad cold. When I came back, everyone was, ‘Hey, good to see you!’ That was nice,” Mark said, with a warm smile on his face.
StreetWise has really helped Mark get back on his feet and start rebuilding his life again. “StreetWise is paying my rent right now. My landlord’s working with me and I give him a little bit every other day so that, by the end of the month, it’s my entire rent,” Mark said, grateful for all the people who still continue to support him and empower him.
Mark is also currently working with Patrick O’Connor, StreetWise assistant director of workforce development, to update his resume so he can go on more interviews and find more stable employment.
During his spare time, Mark finds time to enjoy the city. “I love the city of Chicago. I love everything about downtown… the people, the architecture, all the activities. That motivates me every day to learn something new. I want to see something new, learn something new. I want to meet some new people,” Mark said.
Mark currently vends at 180 N. Wacker (SW corner) and also 1 E. Delaware at Starbucks. Hopefully you will be one of the “new people” that Mark meets and befriends today.
Written by Brittany Langmeyer & Jesse Wood,
StreetWise Staff & StreetWise Intern