Nearly ten years ago, in 2008, Johnny was laid off when his worksite filed for bankruptcy. He was able to find odd jobs to pay the rent, but within a few months he had lost his apartment and was “couch surfing”, living sometimes with friends, sometimes with family members, sometimes on the street. This went on for over eight years.
We first met Johnny when he needed a place to receive his mail. With no permanent address, Johnny, like most people who are homeless, was unable to apply for jobs, receive official government documents or even get a letter from family back home. So this was our first step with him.
As Johnny came in every few days to check his mail, our staff began to recognize him, say hello and ask how things were going. He heard about our Earn-A-Bike Program and was thrilled to be accepted. His bike is now a prized possession and his primary mode of transportation, summer and winter.
While Johnny claimed it was fine to be moving from place to place and sometimes sleeping on the streets, it clearly began to wear on him, and eventually he told us he was ready to move forward. Our task now was to connect him with a local housing agency. The first order of business was to get him a birth certificate and state identification. The state identification took five weeks. The birth certificate, however, was a bit more complicated. Another agency had already helped him get one but they were reluctant to give it to him because he did not have a safe, secure place to keep it.
So NOAH stepped in. We provide secure storage for documents such as birth certificates, social security cards and other important paperwork. Once we told the other agency about this program, they were willing to release Johnny’s birth certificate. Finally, after over nine years of being homeless, eight months of gathering paper work, and two months of waiting for an apartment to become available, Johnny walked into NOAH last month dangling his very own set of keys. He had his own place for the first time in almost a decade.
Housing, while significant, was not our only focus. During these months of waiting for an apartment, Johnny came back to NOAH several times a week. Sometimes Johnny came to get help filling out paperwork, sometimes to navigate a health insurance application, sometimes to figure out where to go for medical care, sometimes to eat lunch, or sometimes to simply check in with us. We estimate that we saw Johnny over 105 times during those eight months before he opened his new front door for the very first time.
But Johnny’s relationship with NOAH does not end because he has a place to live. He still comes to NOAH to let us know how he is doing, to visit with friends he made through our bag lunch program, and to get some help with the ups and downs of life. He says the reason he keeps coming back to NOAH is not because we are always able to help, but because we told him at the very beginning, “If we can’t do it – then let’s find out who can!”
We are the family that Johnny and most of our clients, for a variety of reasons, do not have. We are also their resource network. We build relationships with them, and because of the trust we establish, they accept our referrals to other agencies and services.