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True Joy (The Big Mike Story)


If you’ve ever been around the Romero House for any amount of time, then you have heard of "Big Mike" Birmingham. Big Mike was one of our first overnight guests almost two years ago. Since we transitioned to daytime hospitality, he has had quite the journey. Before we get to that, let us look back on Mike’s life to better appreciate where he is now. 


Growing up, Mike was in and out of the Iowa foster system. While in the system, Mike spent time in the Rosedale Shelter, right here in Ames, located across the alley from the Orange House. While Mike was staying at the Rosedale Shelter, he would look across the alley at the Orange House and say to himself, “I’m going to live there someday.” In a way, he did, just not in the way he thought. But that comes later. As a kid, while at Rosedale, he got up to shenanigans. Several times, he ran away from the group home. 


The following is a story Big Mike told: on one of these occasions of running away, Mike made it all the way to Gilbert. The chase started in Campus Town when Mike was causing trouble in the Memorial Union. When the officer showed up to take Mike home, he decided to run. He took off north, cutting through campus until he got to the University Golf Course. Mike “ran as fast as I’ve run in my entire life.” Whenever the cops got close, Mike “slid into the ditches.” Mike finally made it to railroad tracks and could walk them all the way to Gilbert. When Mike arrived, he went to the local gas station and said, “You should call the cops; we’re running away from the group house.” . 


In Mike’s adult life, he worked several jobs; his favorite was driving trucks for a company in Des Moines. But Mike’s problems got much worse after the death of his wife in 2017. After that tremendous loss, Mike could not keep his house or motorcycle. Mike was homeless until, In 2022, Mike was able to move into the Romero House when we were still taking on overnight guests. 


While Mike stayed with us, he was a great source of joy. There is not a more sarcastic sense of humor you will ever experience until you meet Big Mike! Mike has a sense of humor that always keeps you on your toes, never knowing if what he is saying is true. A hilarious example is Mike saying he’s willing to marry anyone. Another is the nearly constant jump scares he likes giving fellow guests. My personal favorite thing Big Mike is known for are his stories (one of which is recounted above), which are always full of twists, turns, and laughs.



 Mike lived with us here at the Romero House until August of 2023, when he was able to find housing with his son and then his mom. After leaving the Romero House, Mike has made significant strides in his attempt to take on Disability Insurance. Mike has worked closely with a couple of our mental health staff to assist in the long process. We have spent many hours on the phone, in offices, and in conversation, all to help the guy we love. Although Mike has had several setbacks in the process, he is on his way and striving to get his life back on track. He is on the last legs of the medical process for disability insurance, and working with the staff to have more stable housing at Optimae. 

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