Willie has a history of commitment to people, to work, and to his country. When he left the Army in 1987, he had served for 12 years. He married and had five children, four of whom eventually joined the military. He also had struggles. By the time had was 35, he’d had 3 strokes and a heart attack, all related, he says, to his addiction to crack cocaine. He divorced. He had problems with work related to his addiction. He says he finally hit bottom, which was what he needed to make the changes necessary to get sober. Although he has been clean of drugs for 5 years now, he ended up homeless after the combination of some poor financial decisions and the end of a relationship. Willie obtained a job soon after arriving at Austin Street Center and has been working 5-6 days a week at a car wash, saving his money and working towards getting a place of his own again. That day is happening soon! He praises his Austin Street Center Case Manager who has helped with connections, resources, paperwork, locating support groups available outside of his work hours, and transportation, and he adds, “Case Managers here really are concerned about people.”
“There is a rainbow, a beautiful ray of sunshine, at the end of this.” These are words spoken by Austin Street Resident Lenora as she talks about life as a woman experiencing homelessness. Married for seventeen years, and currently separated from her husband, she recalls, “I had a job. I paid the bills. I was the one who took care of everything.” She has hobbies that she greatly misses. “I love to refurbish furniture. I love to plant. I love Home Depot.”
On a bus recently, Lenora heard several other passengers make remarks as the bus passed people who appeared to be homeless. Lenora asked them, “What does homelessness look like?” After a bit of discussion with her fellow passengers, she told them that she is homeless—and they were stunned.
Lenora says, “I’ve fallen, but I’m not going to lay there. I just need a hand up. Do I cry about it? Yes. Do I talk with a counselor about it? Yes.” She meets with her case manager regularly, has updated her resume, and meets with Texas Workforce Commission while she looks for work. She finds comfort in writing, and in offering encouragement to other residents of Austin Street.
Lenora finds it difficult to talk about her loved ones. She mentions that is was tough growing up with a mom diagnosed with schizophrenia. She has a daughter who lives in a suburb of Dallas, but neither has transportation to visit the other. With tears in her eyes, Lenora says that she has grandchildren she hasn’t seen in more than a year.
Austin Street Center exists so that Lenora and others like her can live in safety and receive the help they need to move toward the “beautiful ray of sunshine” at the end of their homeless experience.
For Jerry, the road of mental illness and homelessness has been a long-traveled one. When discharged from the Army in 1975, he was already showing symptoms of what was eventually diagnosed as schizophrenia. Jerry returned to Oklahoma, where he has family, but wasn’t able to keep a job. Hoping to find better employment opportunities than those in the small town he was leaving, Jerry came to Texas. The problems continued however. Each time he got work, he lost it. He has never been able to have his own place, and has spent his adult years off and on in shelters, staying with friends, or on the streets. Now 60 years old, Jerry just moved into his own apartment – his first one ever! His frequent smile widens even more when talking about having a place of his own, thinking about watching football on TV, and having his own kitchen table for the first time. He knows he needs continuing support with his illness, but is thankful that he will finally have privacy, dignity, and some simple things that others take for granted.