Eight months ago Anthony and I embarked on a journey. Anthony was to help me stay on track writing my book about the Year of Giving and I agreed to help Anthony try to get off the streets and into his very own apartment. While we have a long way to go on my book, Anthony is now living in his very own apartment.
I went with Anthony to sign his lease and pick up his keys to his apartment. Catholic Charities, a national organization that helps individuals living in poverty, has a program that helps individuals like Anthony get back into housing. Anthony and I learned about their program and the available apartment through Pathways to Housing, a terrific regional organization that helps find housing for individuals with mental illness, co-occurring substance abuse disorders and/or other medical challenges. We’ve been working with their rock-star outreach worker Elizabeth for several months now.
Anthony was so excited to finally get the keys to his own place. He and I hopped on a bus and went over to get his keys. Donations that I have received online for Anthony were used to pay Anthony’s first month’s rent and Pathways to Housing put down the security deposit for him. From there we headed up to Columbia Heights to see his apartment.
Keys clutched in his hand the entire way, Anthony was beaming as we walked down what he would now call his street. A stone’s throw away from a Metro station, Target, Giant grocery store, a CVS, dozens of restaurants not the least of which is IHOP which Anthony brought to my attention several times.
Upon entering his new home you are immediately confronted with a set of stairs. Three flights up and down the hallway on the left is where we found room 310. Out of breath from the stairs and the excitement, Anthony slid the key in the door and opened it to reveal his new home.
It’s very basic. It has a bed, dresser, small refrigerator, table and closet. There are mini-blinds on the window that faces the building next to his. At about 9×11 feet it’s smaller than my colleague dorm room. It would be nice to have a bathroom or at least a wash basin in his room, but Anthony didn’t seem to care. He’s right across the hall from the bathroom and showers which he shares with about a dozen other men on his floor. There’s also a kitchen that he can use on the first floor.
“My very own place,” he said looking around the freshly painted room, “with my very own bed!” The last time Anthony had a regular bed to lay his head down on at night was when he was incarcerated – not nearly as pleasant of an environment as his new digs in the trendy Columbia Heights district.
Anthony wiggled his way out from his backpack and let the 25 pound sack fall from his sweat soaked t-shirt onto the floor. “It will be so nice not to have to carry that around all day long anymore,” he grinned.
We left the apartment and I took Anthony over to Target. Pushing a shopping cart, probably something he hasn’t done in years, he roamed their two story facility in search of some basic necessities that he needs. He chose his pillow with great care and struggled over a blanket, “I don’t need anything fancy just something to keep me warm when it’s cool out.” I laughed when he spotted some hangers. “Oh yes sir, I am definitely going to need some hangers.” He laughed. It’s been years since he has had a place to hang his clothes.
We weaved our way through the store picking up other items like towels, toiletries, laundry detergent, etc. We made a special stop to look at the TVs. One of his regular Street Sense customers agreed to buy him a new TV! We also picked up some tack to put up a banner on his wall. “First thing I’m gonna do is put up my Steelers banner on the wall!”
We walked back to his apartment. While his arms were tiring from carrying his housewarming gifts, he never mentioned it. He just smiled and laughed the entire way back to his new home. I helped him carry the items up the stairs and into his apartment. I had a meeting that I needed to get to but still had a few minutes left. I helped him make his bed and thought it must feel strange, but wonderful, for him to be tucking the sheet corners neatly under his mattress. He placed the pillow carefully in its case and laid it on the bed. I watched quietly as he stood there holding his hand on the pillow. I didn’t ask what he was thinking. I didn’t need to.
While this is a wonderful step in the right direction, his transition won’t be easy. He’s leaving behind a lifestyle and community that has been part of his life for nearly 20 years. It will take time to adjust and he may have mixed feelings about it. He may not get along with some of his new housemates. Anthony will continue to need assistance for some time. His rent is $425 per month and along with housing comes some expenses that he didn’t have living on the streets.
The longterm goal is that he work toward a more independent living arrangement and a job with higher wages than what he is currently earning. I remind myself that it takes time and that this is a process. Thanks to all of you who’ve supported Anthony in the pursuit of his dream of housing, he’s made great progress in eight months and the future holds so many more opportunities.
It’s somehow fitting that I should write this blog post the day before Anthony’s 56th birthday. Can you think of a better gift?