Community Connections is the recipient of multiple SAMHSA grants, including a grant from the Services in Supportive Housing (SSH) program of the Center for Mental Health Services. The SSH program funds grantees to provide intensive services to prevent or reduce chronic homelessness.
Greg works as a Peer Specialist at Community Connections, the largest not-for-profit mental health agency serving men, women, and children in Washington, D.C. The agency provides clinical, supportive and residential services for the city’s most vulnerable citizens.
Peer Specialists have been instrumental in helping the agency to develop a trauma lens to deepen their understanding of trauma informed care and serving trauma survivors. As a peer specialist, Greg helps people to heal from the trauma of homelessness. It allows him to give back by sharing the strengths of his own journey to what he calls a meaningful life.
As a peer specialist, Greg has the capacity to build trust as a result of his own lived experience. He plays a critical role on the trauma-informed ACT team of five members. While others bring clinical training, Greg brings his lived experience and the truth that people can and do recover from homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health issues.
“I have been mentally ill. I have been homeless. I have been incarcerated, and I had my bout with addictions. Now, I provide support to people who are living in that cycle. I lived in that cycle for so long and I know what it is like,” shares Greg. His lived experience helps him to build rapport with those who are living in that cycle. “As a Peer Specialist I can give some people the benefit of my experiences because I know I can never go back to those times again. I make sure that people know they have the choice to change,” says Greg.
Greg is the second of eight children. He lost his older brother to AIDS. Greg never knew his biological father. By age 8, his mother married a man who had a drinking problem and physically abused his mother.
“One day I tried to stand up for her and he beat me up too,” says Greg. His stepfather chased him out of the house. Eventually, tension and conflict in the family led Greg’s mother to surrender custody of him to The Department of Public of Welfare.
From age 9 to 11, he cycled through foster care and running away from foster care. He landed in a school for disturbed youth. “I was the only black kid in the school in 1961,” says Greg, “I had discrimination in my face at all times.” In the midst of this turmoil, Greg had a mentor. An African American teacher instilled in him the value of education. He listened to her and took pride in his studies.
After he finished at the school, he was given the chance to go home. After so many years away, he learned that he did not fit it. He had a better education. He did not speak the vernacular and did not dress the same. To fit in, he turned to a life of crime and drugs. He was on the streets for 25 years. It was not until he realized that he was addicted to heroin and no longer functioning that he sought out avenues for recovery.
Today Greg works as peer specialist on Community Connections’ ACT team, attending school. He has plans to become a counselor. He shares that he feels he is living a life worth living. “If I can get one person off the street today, then I have done my job.”
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