Elena sat in the intake room answering survey questions. When asked if any of her children had to reduce the amount of food they ate or skip a meal because there wasn’t enough food at home in the last thirty days, she answered “yes.” Further questions revealed that her family often misses multiple meals each week. Although her husband works, he just doesn’t earn enough to provide for food, rent, and other necessary expenses for the couple and their two young children. These parents are forced to choose between paying their bills or skipping meals while encouraging their kids to be sure to eat breakfast and lunch at school. By coming to Crossroads, Elena can choose wholesome foods to feed her children and still pay bills.
Danny presented his rent receipt as proof of residence and commented that it was so nice to be paying rent again. This was his first visit to Crossroads for food, and he shared with great joy that he was finally living in an apartment, after being on the street for six years. But his check was not enough to pay the rent, utility bills, and buy food for the month. Rather than choose between buying food and keeping his home, Danny chose to visit Crossroads where he not only received groceries but also had an opportunity to pick out free gently used clothing to begin building a wardrobe and filling the closet in his new apartment.
Tommie has faithfully volunteered at one of Crossroads’ Community Distribution Partner sites for years. She coordinates food delivery to 17 low-income households headed by senior citizens, many of whom care for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Without the food from Crossroads, delivered to their home by Tommie and her team, some days, these seniors with limited mobility would have to choose between eating less or nothing at all, or navigating public transportation, sometimes with kids in tow, to a local pantry, only to receive the small amount she or he is able to carry home.
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.
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Raymond* has been a client of The Stewpot’s Representative Payee (Rep Payee) Program for a little over a year. The Stewpot Rep Payee Program provides free caseworker assistance to persons suffering from mental illness, chemical dependency, or physical disabilities, and who are unable to manage their federal benefits independently, including Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability.
For the past six years, Raymond has lived at a local shelter and his struggles with mental illness have led to him being hospitalized on a number of occasions. Recently, however, he was able to secure an apartment through another local nonprofit and has been there for about a month. He continues to come in to The Stewpot weekly to meet with the caseworker who is his designated Rep Payee.
Since she has been working with him, his Stewpot caseworker has noticed a profound change in him. He has gone from being unkempt in appearance to being more polished and confident. The man who used to avoid eye contact now smiles when he sees her.
Even though he is now housed, Raymond will continue to participate in the Rep Payee program as it is key to his ongoing stability. A relationship of trust has been established and, together with the support he receives from the staff at the nonprofit who helped him secure housing, The Stewpot Rep Payee Program will help him move forward and maintain housing stability.
James* came to the Stewpot as a homeless client in need of a Texas ID. Our on-site caseworkers helped him acquire it, and during the course of their meetings told him about the STREETZine program which offers temporary employment selling a homeless newspaper produced by the Stewpot.
He started selling the paper and, because he was such a loyal vendor, was asked if he would like to become a Vendor Sales Representative (VSR). James came in faithfully every week to fulfill his VSR responsibilities, and when there was an opening for a new instructor to teach orientation for new vendors, was asked if he would like to take the position.
The caseworker in charge of the STREETZine vendor program reports that he is the best instructor we have ever had. Since first coming to the Stewpot three years ago, he has secured an apartment through a supportive housing program and continues to lead the orientation class and introduce other Stewpot clients to the STREETZine program.
*Names have been changed to protect the clients’ privacy