Homeless Success Story: A Cup of Coffee Saved Robert's Life

Friday, February 26, 2016

By DowntownDC

The DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID) promotes a Housing First approach in tandem with social and mental health services for chronically homeless individuals. The DowntownDC BID contracts with Pathways to Housing DC to provide services and outreach to the downtown homeless community. The story below was written by Pathways to Housing DC:

Before coming to Pathways to Housing DC, Robert had spent the majority of his adult life on the streets of the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID), struggling with substance abuse, untreated mental health symptoms, and debilitating physical ailments. At the time, Robert was in his 50s, extremely overweight, and experienced mobility challenges that prevented him from accessing traditional support services.  It is hard to imagine just how Robert survived day-to-day living on the sidewalks of our Nation’s Capital, alone and with no one to turn to.  For Robert, it seemed that his life would never change—until he met Pathways.

When Robert first met Stephanie, an outreach specialist, he was skeptical. For months, the only service that Robert allowed Stephanie to provide was a cup of coffee.  Morning after morning, Stephanie and Robert sat outside, finding refuge from the chilly fall air in their hot cups of coffee. Their conversations were short and superficial at first; they enjoyed a few sips together while talking about the weather, or the Redskins’ recent loss, and then went their separate ways.  However, with each meeting, and each conversation they shared, Robert began to reveal more about himself.  He began talking about his passion for playing guitar, his ongoing battle managing his weight, and started to open up about the trauma he had endured as a child. Stephanie saw that Robert’s angry exterior served only as a mask to conceal his immense pain and insecurity. Like all of us, Robert just wanted to feel like he belonged.

While Robert was gaining emotional insight, his physical health deteriorated.  He cycled in and out of hospitals and soon found himself in need of a serious health procedure. Following his surgery, Stephanie visited Robert at his long-term medical facility. She collaborated with his case manager to ensure that Robert would not be discharged back to the street.  Robert’s case manager worked with him to apply for Social Security Disability Income, and Stephanie partnered with Robert to complete a vital housing and service assessment. While hospitalized, Robert began attending substance abuse groups and learned more about his addiction.  When he expressed a desire to enter treatment, Robert’s case worker set up an interview at a residential rehabilitation facility. Stephanie was there every step of the way, supporting Robert through the meeting and his stay at the facility.  Though he was tempted many times to leave and go back to the streets,  Robert found a resolve and a new sense of confidence that he hadn’t felt in decades, choosing to remain in his program – he knew that he deserved the better life that it offered. Even after being matched with housing through the assessment that he and Stephanie had completed, Robert chose to finish rehab, knowing that without his sobriety, he wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy life in his new home.

Robert worked with the Pathways to Housing Permanent Supportive Housing team to locate an apartment in his preferred section of the city that met his mobility needs, arranging for a move-in date that coincided with the end of his rehabilitation program.  Today, Robert not only has the safety and stability of a new home, but also his health, his sobriety, and most importantly, a renewed sense of hope. The Permanent Supportive Housing team is working with Robert day-in-and-day-out to help him maintain his recovery, gain insight into his mental illness, and build a healthier and fuller lifestyle in his new home and community. Robert’s first priority, after moving into his apartment, was to learn how to use his new coffee machine.  He now feels that sense of belonging for which he’d always yearned, and he wants to ensure that when he hosts visitors in his home they feel it too, one sip of coffee at a time.