Tyrone first became homeless three or four years ago, he can’t really remember how long it’s been. He was renting a house in Alexandria when he first started using marijuana and alcohol. His drug addiction quickly worsened and he moved onto harder substances, such as cocaine. Using only once or twice a week wasn’t enough and he turned to daily abuse of illegal substances. “I started spending every penny I had on drugs, just anything to get that next buzz. I didn’t save enough money to pay for my bills and I ended up being evicted”. When asked how he felt first becoming homeless, Tyrone states “I felt bad, real bad; like I had let myself down”. His immediate fears were that he would not be able to get himself back on his feet and he’d be stuck trying to make it on the streets for the rest of his life. “I felt so bad being homeless, but drugs helped me forget my troubles for a bit. Being homeless didn’t help me sober up, I needed the drugs to make it through the day and that made me feel worse”. Tyrone states that, in his opinion, most homeless people use drugs for this reason.
With nowhere to go, Tyrone traveled the state. He traveled to all of the major cities in Louisiana: Monroe, Lafayette, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, etc. “I’d stay in one area until I used up all the help I could get, then I’d move on to the next city”. Tyrone states that he never felt that any agency would be able to help him get off the streets; they’d provide soap and toothpaste or somewhere to stay for a few nights, but not much else. His biggest fear being homeless was to be attacked. “…That someone would hurt me while I was sleeping. Not another homeless person, but a gang or a group of people that would attack the homeless that weren’t in groups. I tried to stay with other people, so we could protect each other. There’s strength in numbers. The gangs would come up and hit you with a stick or a brick. It’s messed up. You could get paralyzed or whatever”.
CLHC’s Housing Coordinator visited the Salvation Army in Alexandria on September 25, 2015 for a monthly outreach event. Tyrone met with the coordinator and explained his situation. He was staying in the day program there, but could not sleep at the Salvation Army as he had used his 21 days and did not have the $7 to pay each night. At the time, Tyrone was sleeping under a park bench in Alexandria. One week later, CLHC hosted a street outreach event at 5am and Tyrone was found sleeping at the amphitheater. “That was my lowest point. I didn’t have any hope in CLHC, because none of the other organizations were really able to help me. That night I laid down at the amphitheater, I thought to myself that I was ready to give up, things weren’t going to get any better and there was no point in living this way anymore. But then you woke me up and said that you were working on getting my paperwork together for a program. That gave me a little bit of hope; reassured me that things might get better.”
Tyrone’s Vulnerability assessment score indicated that he was at high risk of dying on the streets. So, for the next month, CLHC’s Housing Coordinator worked diligently to get documentation qualifying Tyrone for permanent supportive housing and he was referred to a housing program on October 21, 2015 (less than a month after initially meeting with CLHC). Qualifying documents included information on his mental health and substance abuse issues and emergency shelter stays. He was interviewed by the case manager and executive director and accepted for enrollment in the program. Tyrone moved into his own apartment on November 3, 2015.
When asked how Tyrone felt when he learned he was referred and accepted to a housing program, he stated that it felt like a dream! “It couldn’t be true! No other agency in any city I traveled to mentioned a house for me. They just gave me what I needed and I went to the next city. I was too afraid to be happy, because surely something would come up and it wouldn’t work out for me. I’d keep reminding myself to not let my guard down. Hell, I’m still afraid today that I could lose my apartment; it’s too good to be true”. Tyrone says he has mixed emotions, “people don’t just help out like that”. As more information was given to him, and the process moved along, he became anxious. “I was so excited to see my own apartment; my very own apartment. I didn’t need anything else, not a bed or a pillow, just a roof over my head, something to keep me from sleeping in the rain.”
Walking into his apartment for the first time, Tyrone states that he felt amazed. “It was perfect, this is the one.” Tyrone was given options of which apartment he would prefer to live in, and he said that the first apartment he saw was love at first sight. “No one else ever opened doors like this for me. It was always ‘if you had kids or if you were a veteran, we’d help’, but just me by myself, and I have a mental illness and was using drugs. Not too many people want to help someone like me”.
Tyrone is housed through CLHC’s Permanent Supportive Housing program. This program is designed for people who have a dual diagnosis of a severe mental illness and a substance abuse disorder. “I love being in the program! Just to have a roof over my head, a place to sleep, to watch TV, to cook, and clean, it’s great. I remember being dirty for so long, I couldn’t shower and I was just filthy. Now I have somewhere to clean up and I do it as often I can. Everyone hates cleaning, but having a house to clean is really a blessing. I’m also around good people. CLHC introduced me to people that I would have never met, people that were in the same situation I was in. I’m thankful for that”.
“CLHC has done so much, so much for me, mentally and physically. I feel like I wouldn’t even be here today, if it wasn’t for CLHC. I really had gave up that night on the levee. I was tired of living in that condition. But ya’ll came and opened doors for me. You have me feeling much better about myself. I still have down days, but it’s not near as bad as before I met ya’ll and before I had a place to call my own. Now that I met ya’ll, life is good and I know I can really make it. I have goals now too. I want to do other things; I want to go back to school, fit in with normal people and not be worried about how they look at me. Now that I have somewhere to live and Mrs. Tessa helped me get disability, I can really clean myself up and no one even has to know that I was sleeping outside for four years. Mrs. Tessa also helped me get health insurance! She helped me overcome some of my mental illness, that’s usually a block for me. She shows me a whole lot of stuff that I couldn’t figure out on my own; it seems like she has the all the answers. I’m very forgetful, but she doesn’t mind reminding me. She calls and checks on me and makes sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. She’s helping me stay sober and wanting to get my life back on track. Ya’ll are the only one I really trust to make sure I’m staying straight.”