By Tom Holmes
Four years ago, Chris Ross weighed 70 pounds and was living in a rat-infested abandoned building in Maywood, where he used heroin and crack cocaine and panhandled and stole to support his addiction.
Then, he met Forest Park resident John Netherly and his life began to turn around.
As Ross tells the story, he was panhandling one day in his hometown of Melrose Park when Netherly saw him and asked if he was homeless. When he answered yes, Netherly told him that he'd be back in 20 minutes. "People would tell me that all the time when I was panhandling," Ross said. "But John came back. He gave me food and $25."
And so began a long-term relationship in which Netherly functioned as, in Ross's words, a guardian angel. Netherly runs the nonprofit Bedrock Movement, a one-man movement to help people without a home.
Netherly doesn't romanticize his early relationship with Ross. "Chris was a dangerous, homeless, heroin addict, and drug dealer. He was on his way to death," he said. "But the Bedrock Movement continued to serve him through thick and thin."
Ross acknowledged that when he met Netherly, his life had become unmanageable. His drug use had cost him his marriage, job and health. But those obstacles didn't stop Netherly from maintaining the relationship and supporting him.
"Everybody would give up on me," said Ross. "I wanted to stop using but didn't know how. John gave me resources." One of those resources was a trip and referral to the Gateway Treatment Center in Chicago, where Ross participated in a residential drug rehabilitation program from which he graduated last May.
But a few months after graduating from Gateway, Ross experienced a slip, began using again, and was arrested for burglarizing a car and wound up in the Cook County Jail on Sept. 11, 2017, where he began yet another drug rehabilitation program, his eleventh altogether. This is one of the points where Netherly's talk about "thick and thin" comes into play.
During Ross' four months in prison, it was Netherly who kept coming back. "He was my biggest supporter, even in jail," Ross said. "He wrote me letters and let me call him, but first and foremost, he let me know that no matter what he was there for me."
Although Sept. 11 is a day most Americans associate with the victims of the World Trade Center collapse in New York , Ross said for him the day represents a turning point. "Since that day," he said proudly. "I've not had one dirty drug test. I'm on probation and have not missed one of my weekly court dates to check in. I have a job, sole custody of my infant son, and an apartment."
Ross is being supported by many programs. He participates in a program called Treatment Assessment Screening Center which, according to its website, provides "behavioral health programs that promote positive, life-changing growth," and sees a therapist/drug counselor once a week for his bi-polar and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders. He has a Link card to help him out financially.
But through it all he continues to depend on his faithful guardian angel Netherly. Now when he sees people who are addicted to drugs on the streets, he doesn't identify. "I think, 'That was me, but because of John that's not me anymore,'" Ross said, later adding: "I've done a lot of wrong in my life and I thought that there was no hope. When you think there is no hope, there is. You've got to keep kickin' and somebody will come to help."