LEWISTON — David Peterson and Jessica Gilliam used to be homeless. But not only did they find shelter at Hope Haven Gospel Mission, they also found each other — and fell in love.
On Saturday, March 2, they will marry at the shelter. The everyday problems of poverty and homelessness will be pushed aside as Hope Haven celebrates the wedding.
The dining room will be decorated in colors of gray, navy and pink. The wedding flowers will be pink roses, their symbol of merged hearts.
As the two exchange traditional vows, she’ll wear a tea-length white wedding dress with spaghetti straps and a bolero jacket. He’ll wear a suit that a friend is altering.
“I want to look as nice as I can,” he said.
The pastor at Hope Haven, John Robbins, will officiate.
The future bride and groom are disabled. He has fibromyalgia, and she has a personality disorder and depression. They’re marrying even though it may mean a reduction in disability benefits.
When he moves from his Auburn apartment into her Lewiston apartment, their combined incomes may mean she’ll lose her Section 8 housing allowance, food stamps and some disability income, they said.
He’s worried that money will be too tight but says a legal union is the right thing to do.
“I’m Christian,” Peterson said. “If you’re going to spend your life together, you’ve got to be married.”
She agreed. “No amount of money can make up for the love I feel for him,” Gilliam said. “It doesn’t matter if we make $400 a month between the two of us. We’re together.”
The 35-year-old Maine native came to Hope Haven in the summer of 2008 when “I didn’t have anywhere to go.” She later found an apartment.
Peterson declined to give his age, acknowledging he’s over 50. He is a fixture at Hope Haven, serving as the shelter’s computer technician. He can only work a few hours a day, for which he receives a small stipend.
Peterson first came to Hope Haven in 1991. Originally from California, he was unemployable and homeless because of what “brings most people down — alcoholism and drug use.”
He hitchhiked across the country, ending up at Hope Haven. “The first night I stayed here, I knew I wanted to be part of the ministry,” Peterson said. He credits Hope Haven with saving his life. “I was drinking myself to death,” he said. Since he’s been at Hope Haven, “I’ve been sober and drug-free, serving the Lord.”
Peterson and Gilliam have known each other for several years, and started dating last summer. Their friendship took shape when he helped her while shopping at Walmart and drove her home. Conversation between the two flowed easily.
Their relationship went from occasional “to a full-blown friendship,” she said. “We spent a lot of time together. Then it migrated into love.”
He proposed in December at Portland’s Monument Square, in front of the outdoor Christmas tree. As he got down on his knees, patrons inside a nearby restaurant watched.
Afterward, the couple ducked inside the restaurant. “A gentleman came up to me and said, ‘Did she say yes?’” Peterson recalled. “I said, ‘She did.’ The whole restaurant started applauding.”
Peterson said the two have a lot in common and often think similar thoughts.
Gilliam said she loves his sense of humor and his personality. She said she used to be negative, but not anymore. “Every single day, he makes me laugh. I never used to laugh.”