“Without you guys I’d still be in the hole and living with rats.”
Last holiday season Maurice was literally residing in a rat infested trench. After years of trauma, addiction, illness, and homelessness he had dug himself a hole to stay hidden from the elements and society. For the first time in many years he will spend the holidays in his new apartment this winter.
Maurice, now 50 years old, first experienced homelessness at fifteen when his parents had kicked him out. At 18 he went to prison for failing to report a crime he had witnessed. He made the most of his sentence – he took college courses and proudly maintained a 4.0 average. He also learned how to paint. After his release, he and a girlfriend moved to Florida. Finally, after 26 years, “Everything was going good, and then it all got destroyed.” Shortly after the move the two were severely injured when a car ran a red light and slammed into them. After the accident Maurice had trouble finding work but was hired to do odd jobs at their apartment complex so he could pay rent. While working at the complex he was struck by a car, breaking his spine and resulting in life-long chronic back pain and traumatic brain injury.
Maurice later married and had a son, but after seven years they divorced and he experienced another episode of homelessness. He used drugs to cope and also learned he had HIV. When his mother fell ill he moved in to care for her – she died while in his arms. Depressed and without family, he was once again out on the streets.
Maurice’s brain injury causes him to forget things like taking his medications, and he became very ill with AIDS. He entered a program for help but ultimately it didn’t work. He returned to the streets feeling left for dead, severely depressed, alone, and suicidal. He dug the hole for shelter and as an escape from the world. For a short time, he moved out of the hole to live with a new girlfriend. She was killed in a hit and run and Maurice was back in the hole – literally and figuratively.
Columbus House’s Outreach & Engagement team began visiting Maurice’s trench in March to offer help. Teresa, Maurice’s Recovery Specialist says, “some clients need more help than others.” He agrees. Maurice didn’t think Teresa would be so patient. Admirably, she was able to get him into an inpatient drug rehabilitation center. “She didn’t let me down once, it was awesome.”
Sober, but still without a home, Teresa made sure Maurice could stay at Columbus House’s New Haven Shelter the day he left rehab. “I was being released. If I had slept outside that night, I was going to get high. She made sure I didn’t.”
Teresa helped Maurice secure his identification and get approved for HOPWA (Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS). He moved into his own apartment on November 1st. He receives medical care at Hill Health Center and his HIV levels are the lowest ever. He participates in activities to maintain his sobriety and a Columbus House Permanent Supportive Housing Case Manager gives him the support he needs to stay in his home, maintain his health, and move towards independence.
Maurice wants to give back and help save the lives of others experiencing homelessness. “I love helping other people…because I’ve lived it. I know everything they’re going through.” When he is able, Maurice wants to assist Columbus House in helping other chronically homeless individuals find a stable, affordable home.
Photos, top-bottom: A mural that Maurice drew for Teresa, his Columbus House Recovery Specialist; The hole Maurice was living in; Maurice (r) and his landlord after signing his lease; Maurice with Teresa in his new apartment.