It was a little more than 18 months ago that Anthony and I were meeting at Au Bon Pain on 19th Street. It was one of our regular biweekly meetings that we have. I had asked him during the previous get-together to think about where he wanted to be in one year or five years. “Don’t answer me now,” I told him. “Think about it and we’ll talk about it when we meet next time.”
Two weeks went by. We sat down at our usual table; Anthony carefully accommodating the multiple bags of personal items that lugged around with him all day long. Before we had even taken the first bite of our lunch, Anthony said that he had been thinking about what we talked about the previous week.
“I’ve been out on the streets for too long. I’m 55 years old.” He paused, “When you asked me where I want to be in a year I gave that a lot of thought. I want to have my own place – it doesn’t need to be big or anything like that, but just a small place where I can sleep in my own bed, keep my things and feel safe.”
Everyone should have that I thought. And I didn’t think it would be all that hard to find someone housing who is willing to contribute to the rent and work hard at improving their situation. I was a bit naive about that. The system to get housing is completely crazy. Thankfully we got some help from a group called Pathways to Housing and one of their amazing outreach workers named Elizabeth.
Last July Elizabeth found an apartment run by Catholic Charities that we thought Anthony might qualify for. Thanks to the income and sense of community he gets from Street Sense, he was able to afford a small 12 foot by 14 foot room. The apartment, subsidized by Catholic Charities, is clean and well located. He would share the bathroom and kitchen with two dozen other men – but Anthony said he would be fine with that.
On July 15th of last year Anthony and I went to pick up the keys to his apartment. It was a day I will never forget. The excitement, anxiety and uncertainty charged the air around him. Hope, with responsibility neatly disguised under it, was pouring out of his eyes. Today things were different. Tomorrow would be different.
It’s been nearly a year. Anthony has worked hard to manage his finances so that he can pay his rent on time every month. There have been some challenges though, especially getting him some of the basic things to furnish his room, but most of that we secured through your kindness of gifts and donated items.
“I want to celebrate,” Anthony told me a few weeks back. “I’m so happy and thankful to have my apartment.” I told him to think about where he’d like to hold the party. I wasn’t surprised that he decided on restaurant that is across the street from the corner where Anthony sells the paper. Anthony is an immovable part of the community around 19th and M. He knows everyone and of course he knew the people at Rumors – a restaurant and bar right there across the street from his spot.
So that’s where we’ll be on July 14th to celebrate one year since he proudly clutched the key to his apartment and started to build a home. I hope you’ll join us. Even if you’ve never met Anthony, come by and say hello. It’s through building a stronger community around him that we help ensure that Anthony continues the successful journey that he has embarked on.
See you on the 14th!