We had been looking for her. The Code Blue van went out every night when the temperatures went below a frigid 15 degrees. Our Outreach Team at the Hope Center had not seen her a few days and was concerned for her safety.
Walking past the small opening between buildings, I thought I noticed a movement. I would have missed her if I didn’t look twice. There she was, sitting on a park table, head down, sleeping. It was below 15 degrees on a January night in Buffalo and she was sleeping in the snow. She had made a spot for her head on the table, pushing the snow to a pile on the opposite side of the table. She placed a newspaper on the cleared area to use as a barrier to the cold, cement top. She was petite, not that you would have known with the layers of clothes she wore. She was approximately sixty years old with a crack in her voice that was a result of the cold weather. I offered her my arm to help guide her to the van. She took it and I could feel her frail, calloused hand squeeze my arm.
That night, instead of taking her to the shelter to sleep on a cot that she would have to leave the next morning, I was able to take “Mary” to a small, warm studio apartment. In the ride to the apartment, Mary said she had worked all her life and could get Social Security, but felt that that was meant for extreme situations. She did not feel sleeping outside in the cold was such a situation. I gave her keys, food and promised I would return in the morning to check on her. Mary asked if she could stay all night. I replied that this was now her home, if she wished; a stepping stone to the next phase in her life. I apologized for not having the apartment furnished. Mary thanked me gratefully with a smile on her face.
Mary also revealed that night that she was embarrassed by her situation. Not only will our outreach case manager continue to work with Mary to ensure a secure housing environment and a stable support system, but we’ll also focus on rebuilding her self-worth.
Our Outreach team had been engaged with John since 2008. He lived on the streets, but was never willing to give us his direct location. We usually met up with John at the bus station, or at one of the local soup kitchens. John was very guarded and often displayed angry behavior. On one occasion, John became very aggravated at one of our outreach workers, and claimed that no one ever helped him. Whenever applying for housing, he was only given the option of a rooming house – which, as he correctly pointed out – are usually filled with drug addicts and have substandard conditions. John had no income, no food stamps, and no insurance. He lived in a parking garage downtown which he referred to as his “penthouse suite.” He spent much of his life working with demolitions, until his body “broke down.”
It was approximately seven months after that night when John approached our team and asked to be a part of the new program he had heard about. He apologized to the workers with whom he had lost his temper and admitted he couldn’t spend another winter out in the elements. Within weeks, John was given the keys to his own apartment, which was located in the Allentown District of Buffalo. John was ecstatic at the thought of having his own place. His Housing First case manager worked with John to establish food stamps and Medicaid. John also applied for his Social Security benefits. Within six months of entering the program, some basic benefits (food stamps, Medicaid, SafeLink) were established for John and he was linked to a primary care physician and a dentist. John was able to get a dental work up and was eligible for full set of dentures. John was also awarded Social Security this past February.
John has established a trusting relationship with his case worker and after many visits gave some insight to his past homeless situation. He has also seen the benefits of being able to talk through some of his issues and feelings and has agreed to some outpatient counseling. He has changed his mind about a service he once called “useless.” With his income and entitlements in place we are focusing on assisting John in growing his social support system. He has attended some of the Hope Center’s activities but explains that he is not very social. We are assisting him in his goal to take computer classes so he can perform abilities such as email. He has started to re-establish his family relations, reaching out to his foster parents and making plans to visit them in the near future. We continue to encourage him to partake and assist us in improving and developing the program as he knows best what the clients we serves needs would be.
John’s story touches on the very core of what the Hope Center is about. As he put it, “You made me feel like a human again for this first time in a long time.” That is our goal for each of our clients at the Matt Urban Hope Center.
The Lt. Col Matt Urban Human Services Center of W.N.Y. 1081 Broadway Buffalo, N.Y. 14212 Phone 716.893.7222 Fax 716.893.3279 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
A multi-purpose not-for-profit agency committed to providing programs that revitalize neighborhoods, serve families and change lives.