About this Time Tuesday Morning: Four Years in the Life of a PATH Consumer Provider
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PATH Consumer Provider Network member, and liaison to the PATH Data Advisory Committee, Michael Kelly, is a peer provider at Housing for New Hope in North Carolina. In this article he recounts his story from sitting outside a bagel shop without a quarter in his pocket to moving into his own home.
About this time Tuesday morning, my co-worker and I were looking behind a dumpster to check on a female reported to have been sleeping there at night. We only found a bag of clothing so we left a business card with our program, Housing for New Hope, information on it. We still have not found her, but sooner or later, we will.
About this time two weeks ago, we were checking on someone who we got into temporary housing. She had taken in another person because she knew we would come by and help that person too. After explaining to her why she couldn’t share her room with someone else, we enrolled her friend into our outreach program. Before we were finished, another person came up asking for help. Word gets around.
About this time, four years ago, I was sitting at one of the tables outside of Bruegger’s Bagels with the help wanted papers in front of me so it would look like I was looking for work. I was really looking to work the people that came by me. I looked pitiful, but my looks had a purpose. The worse I looked the better. I wanted their pity and sympathy to work in my favor.
I was the “unofficial greeter.” I would greet each person as if they were a friend with a big smile on my face. All I wanted them to see was, “If this poor, miserable guy can still smile with all the problems he has then I am fortunate to have what I have.” Some of them would smile, some would walk on by, and some would listen to my story. They would stop and check in on me, and my friends, and give me a twenty-dollar bill or more. On the streets, a twenty could last up to a few days.
One day, I was at Bruegger’s doing my usual routine and a big flashy Cadillac pulled up. Two dudes dressed to the nines wearing all this “bling bling” jewelry got out. I thought “ka-ching the register drawer just opened!” But they didn’t go inside; they just came towards me. I put out my best “Good morning” and figured I’d make some money giving out directions to someone from out of town. But they didn’t want directions. Instead, they asked me my name and started asking questions about my situation and where I was staying. I was afraid that they might be cops, but they didn’t look like cops.
I asked who they were and why were they being so nosey. I wasn’t bothering anyone. I was just trying to get by. They said they were Alphonso and Reggie and they worked for Housing for New Hope. They said that they could help me get my life back together if I wanted to let them. They said there were places I could go and live and learn to take care of myself, get a job, and start my life over again. I told them that I had been to the shelter and the Mission and I didn’t like it there. I was fine right where I was. Thanks, but no thanks. They didn’t bat an eye and just asked if someone from Housing for New Hope could check on us every now and then. I said “Whatever, it’s a free world.”
As they were leaving I figured it was my last chance, so I asked them if they had any change to spare. Alphonso turned around, reached into his pocket and pulled out a huge wad of cash. He held it up and said “If it’s money you want, I got plenty of that, but the kind of change I have for you, you really have to WANT IT.” He smiled his big smile, got in his car, and left.
That’s when Dian started coming out and visiting us. She always brought something to eat, drink, or wash up with. She would bring clothes, blankets, and even brought me a sleeping bag once. She seemed to always show up when we were drunk, but, looking back, I guess we were always drunk. It was funny to watch her tromping through the woods looking for us. She put up with us for about a year before I got sick and ended up in the hospital.
That’s when I decided I wanted the change they had been talking about.
Dian took me from the hospital to Durham Center for detox, then to the Freedom House to wait for a bed to open up in the Phoenix House. I was in Phoenix House, a one year program, for only eight months when the staff decided I was doing so well that they wanted to move me to Andover Apartments as a night watchman. Dian, Alphonso and Sam Fisher helped me get a job, medical help, dental help, and learn to live life all over again. As I bounced from place to place they stood by me, they ensured that I had the help that I needed and they never gave up on me. Moving toward goals, that’s Housing for New Hope. Not deciding for someone and pushing them, but helping set small goals and moving toward those goals, one day at a time. Rekindling the light of hope in those that have let theirs go out.
I now work for the PATH assertive street outreach team at Housing for New Hope, and my days are very similar to the way I began my story. I advocate for people who are homeless in our area. I have been to Washington and Capitol Hill. I am a founding member of the National PATH Consumer/Provider Network (PCPN) and am on several other boards and committees. I can now say what my hero and mentor, Alphonso Williams, used to say about going from homelessness to homeownership because I just moved into my first home thanks to Habitat for Humanity. “Now, THAT’S SOME REAL CHANGE!!”
Michael Kelly is a founding member of the PATH Consumer Provider Network. He experienced homelessness, including living in the trucks he was driving, for nearly five years before becoming employed at Andover Apartments in December 2006. Michael began his current job as a Peer Specialist at Housing for New Hope in May of 2007.
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