After a contented life in Southern California, Alan Rice began to drift — both away from God and through the Western part of the country. He finally hit the road to Alaska six years ago.
He describes the consequences of sin and poor decision-making as a descent into dishonesty and self-absorption that eventually landed him on the streets of Anchorage and at the doorstep of the Brother Francis Shelter in the winter of 2012.
Rice recently spoke to the Catholic Anchor about his descent into street life.
“I characterize my thinking patterns at that time as extreme confusion,” he reflected.
The duties to family became less important than self-seeking, as he pursued personal freedom and indulgence. His life on the streets was interwoven with a cast of characters who considered him a bit of a spiritual leader but this outward facade did nothing to fill a gnawing hunger for authenticity, which he couldn’t outrun.
Rice admits ruefully, “While I had taken on the form of a Christian and spoke the language very well, I had no interior authenticity. I considered myself a dishonest Catholic, which is no way to live — that dissonance. It meant I had to choose between the two. I chose to become a dishonest person.”
Never having a substance abuse history, Rice characterizes his dysfunction as exerting his “own agenda” over people and situations. Trained as a plastics technician with broad experience in chemistry and physics, his employment history became spotty due to unreliability and a bad attitude, creating a web of obstacles he overcame through any means necessary, including crime.
“I became a thief,” he lamented.
In finally pulling out of the abyss of self-sabotage and uselessness, Rice doesn’t credit his own power, but the sustenance of God. Of his spiritual conversion, he recalled a stark moment when he conceded that God must have been watching over him.
Facing the federal hammer after years of skating around the consequences of a dishonest lifestyle, he offered an intimate bargain to God.
“I laid it all on the line,” he said. “I offered God my life, no holds barred.”
Shortly after this prayer, he attended a courthouse appointment that he was dreading. The clerk’s words were curt and unexpected: “We’ve been expecting you. Your matter is taken care of.”
No further explanation was available. The resulting freedom was a force Rice found undeniable, and he has been pursuing the Lord ever since, regardless of his material circumstances. His newfound faith meant he could calmly face situations, even through great difficulty.
“It’s a totally different scenario, living in your car, limited by your own means. Then there’s living in your car, with the Creator, the ultimate power of heaven and earth as your best friend.”
Driven forward by a ruthless examination of his circumstances and the role of habitual vice in creating his own difficulties, Rice now lives a structured life characterized by a peace that eluded him for decades.
He now obeys the law as a tenet of his faith, and serves others in order to reconcile his conscience with the tragedy of chronic homelessness.
“I cannot live in good conscience knowing there are people in such extreme poverty, in my country,” he said.
He cites Jesus’ words from the Gospels, “The poor you will always have in your midst” as more of a command to the faithful to continually seek out the poor, than a resignation to allow their suffering without engagement.
Rice volunteers five nights a week distributing bowls of soup to those who stand right where he once congregated — the line of the hungry and homeless who sometimes number upwards of 200 a day.
“It’s been good to get back on my feet,” Rice reflected, just before beginning a recent shift at the shelter.
He takes the bus from his home in Mountain View each weeknight to offer outreach, and oversee the kitchen helpers — mostly current shelter residents and community volunteers.
JeVaughn Coachman, a 20-something from New York City, names Rice among his mentors, not so much by direct instruction but by immersing himself in the harmonious kitchen work they share. The appreciation is mutual.
“Of the 100-plus people eligible to work here each day, JeVaughn is often the only volunteer besides myself,” Rice said. “This bodes well for his immediate future.”
Rice said he hopes to do his small part to eradicate the need for a homeless shelter in Anchorage, a goal he knows is ambitious.
Even during his periods of homelessness, Rice came to see that his time at Brother Francis Shelter was an opportunity. Motivated by faith, he hopes others can grow and change by experiencing the mercy of God extended through the shelter.
“If they can just take advantage of not paying rent, having food and shelter provided for them, this can really be the beginning of a fresh foundation,” he said.
But Rice is cautious about not enabling bad behavior, and notes that the shelter toes a fine line in that regard. Speaking of the violence and substance abuse rampant among the homeless, he says, “We really need to be careful, to avoid perpetuating a societal ill which can overwhelm the weak.”
Surveying the sea of people camped around the Brother Francis Shelter tucked along 3rd Avenue, Rice emphasized that the building blocks of a new life are available to any who take hold of their potential. His gratitude for the shelter goes beyond amenities like soup, showers and cots. That period also provided him time to examine his spiritual needs, and he hopes others will do the same.