I first met Al (not his real name) just three months after I became the Housing Specialist for Harbor Health Services in Branford, CT. He was a resident at our group home, after having lived on the streets for over two years due to his alcoholism.
At first he was angry and forlorn. He didn’t have faith that anything could be done to help him, until he realized that he had to help himself, with the support of an agency that believed in his recovery.
Prior to coming to the group home, Al had been living in an abandoned truck in a junkyard. The truck did not operate so he had no heat. Occasionally, the owners would kick him off the property. However, once they saw that he was causing no damage and not creating a disturbance, they allowed him refuge during the winter months.
During this period, surviving meant drinking for Al. With no income, he did odd jobs and borrowed money to buy his next drink. He went up and down the streets collecting cans and bottles to turn in for the cash refund. He was well known around town for his daily ‘collections.’ Many businesses and residents would leave their cans for him, providing him with the means to maintain himself in a near constant drunken state.
The local police brought him to our agency after being picked up for being intoxicated in public. He called this his lowest point. He was angry with himself but took it out on everyone around him. He argued constantly with his clinician and the house manager, but did not refuse assistance. He made every day a challenge for those trying to provide him with a level of support that was appropriate and needed.
Al spent over one year living in our group home. During that time, he was awarded his Social Security Disability pension and attended a number of groups and private clinical sessions. He was able to see a primary care physician for the first time in over ten years.
The next step for Al was to leave the group home and find independent housing. He had a history of criminal offenses for various alcohol related incidents and his credit history was scattered with unpaid utilities and evictions. The prospect of finding housing looked very grim for Al. Landlords who were friends of the agency had no vacancies, so a new landlord was secured. The landlord was apprehensive at first, but agreed to offer Al a lease once the agency provided letters of support and a main point of contact at the agency. For the first time in many years, Al had a home to call his own.
His new apartment was small but cozy. It was a one-bedroom apartment and was barely affordable. Working with a case manager, he was able to obtain energy assistance and additional cash assistance, as well as food stamps. Money was tight, but Al supplemented his income by continuing to collect cans and bottles. He met with his case manager weekly for budgeting discussions. Through this process, he was able to reclaim a cat that had lived with him for many years prior to his homelessness.
Independence in his own apartment was an important step in Al’s recovery. It allowed him to realize the power and strength that he had within him to overcome the obstacles he had created in his life over the years. During his time, he started working for the agency doing cleaning and odd jobs. He was also taking control of his health and seeking medical treatment, as well as maintaining his mental health.
Eight months after obtaining the apartment, he was accepted into subsidized housing. Al recognized that this was the final step in his successful and safe housing journey. He would no longer be paying over $600 per month on housing related expenses. His rent would be income based and allow him greater freedom to maintain his life and enjoy himself.
Once again, his criminal record and poor credit was an issue. This time, he was able to show a positive rental history and how he was working with our agency to manage his money. Letters of support were once again presented and after an initial rejection, a hearing determined he would indeed be eligible for housing.
One morning in July he moved into his new apartment. By later that evening, he was unpacked and settled. He faces his recovery daily with a renewed faith that he has the power to succeed and the support he needs. Al is a constant presence at Harbor Health Service’s Social Program. He provides support to others who are homeless or struggling with alcoholism. He has spoken at numerous events and groups, sharing his experience so that others can avoid the roads he traveled and see that success is truly obtainable.
Bobbi Jo Evans is the Housing Specialist at Harbor Health Services, Inc., in Branford, Connecticut, where she provides housing assistance to people with mental illness and works in eviction prevention. In addition, Bobbi Jo has worked for eight years in the housing field as a property manager specializing in subsidized housing.
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