A young South African is challenging perceptions with his story about how he spent five years living on the streets, and eventually, how he was able to get off of them again.
Johannesburg, South Africa (12 July 2019) – Francesco Rizzuto landed up on the street as a young child after both of his parents passed away – he has no siblings and had no support system at the time.
The young South African was forced to move into his mother’s house after his father passed away but recalls the time as living with a stranger that he did not know.
“My father passed away when I was just 14 years old, and I was forced to move into a house with my mother and stepfather, who I barely knew. It was really difficult as I was treated like I wasn’t good enough and was constantly told that I wouldn’t amount to anything. Losing my dad and living in that house was one of the most difficult times in my life, but it just turned into an absolute nightmare when my mom passed away too.”
Rizzuto had made it through high school, but the death of his mom took a toll on him that led him down a spiralling path that would take years to recover from. It was in that difficult time that the young South African turned to drugs… first as a recreational outlet and then quickly turning into one of his coping mechanisms.
His drug use got worse and worse, to a point where he was stealing from his step-father to fund his habit until it escalated to him being asked to leave and having nowhere to go.
It was then that he turned to begging by day and sleeping on the streets at night.
“Standing begging at the robots I used to see many people from my past who I knew, and it felt like I was standing outside of a glass house where everyone inside was living a normal life, and I just couldn’t ever get in. I wanted to touch that normal life, but no one would give me a hand. Standing at the roadside was one of the most heartbreaking things that I had to do, but if I didn’t do it, then I wouldn’t be able to survive.”
The next five years would be a mixture of homeless shelters, sleeping in storm-water drains and drugs. Rizzuto speaks candidly about trying to better himself by attending rehabilitation centres, but his life continued to weave between homelessness, sober moments and street life.
“I have been to 13 rehabs, and 7 halfway houses but nothing ever got better. It always just ended the same way… me on the streets, using again.”
It was about a year and a half ago that something changed for Rizzuto. Something inside of him told him to stop using drugs, and to start praying. He is not exactly sure what led him to that moment, but it would be a three-month journey that would start the next chapter in his life… one that would get him off the streets.
“Something inside me told me to pray and so I prayed. Every day. All day. I prayed for three months until I bumped into Billy Odriscoll, an old friend, who offered to take me to rehab. It was at that moment when I knew that my life was about to change.”
The young South African spent 11 months in that rehab focusing all of his energy on staying sober and bettering his life, but an altercation with the head administrator left Rizzuto back on the streets again… fighting to stay sober and survive.
He spent the week worrying about his future but still keeping his faith in God that it would get better. He stayed sober and spent his time praying again.
At the time Rizzuto did not know that two of his childhood friends had been looking for him, as they knew that his time in rehab would soon come to an end, and had plans in place to help him get back on his feet.
“The one morning, I walked to the garage to go wash my hands and face and bumped into two of my friends who were looking for me. They saw me and immediately offered me a place to stay. They told me that they had a plan to help me.”
It took just two days to find Rizzuto a job and with that, a new home and a new life.
That was a year and a half ago, but with God’s grace and the intervention of people who took the time out of their lives to give him a chance in life – he is today an amazing testimony!
On his 27th birthday, a year and a half of being clean, Rizzuto went back to the corner where he used to beg to share his story with the world.
“This is the robot I used to beg at. Through good friends, to family, to the love of my life and Jesus, my world has transformed drastically in the past year and a half. I never thought that God had all of this in store for me: A happy home, a happy girl, and to be surrounded by loving people.
Mostly this post is for the sake of spreading the miracles by God. If he can save me, he can save you too.”
Rizzuto shared his story with Good Things Guy in the hopes that it might inspire others to see homeless people differently, or maybe even reach out to someone living on the streets… to remind them that their fate is not final, and to tell them that if he could get off the streets, then they can too!
“People living on the street are no different from you and me.
And I promise you, if you can be kind and give love to a homeless person then they can become productive members of society. They just need to be seen and it’s our duty to see them.”