In Providing hope for the homeless in the back alcove of Rundel Library, Andy Carey, Co-Founder of MC Collaborative, told his story of the Library Outreach Resource Center at the Rundel Library.
With over 2800 views and 600 facebook shares so far, Andy’s article has been our most popular ever. And most gratifying.
The short piece has circulated throughout Rochester’s social work and caring communities and beyond. A librarian in New Jersey saw the article and called Andy for more information on how to replicate the Rochester program in her library.
In April, Andy invited me to a picnic celebrating the closing of REACH’s successful winter shelter on Prince Street.
The mid-April afternoon was much more like mid-June. Sunshine in the sky, buoyancy in the air and Maurice masterfully at his grill. The only quiet moment was when Reverend Peter Peters offered a spiritual blessing before we feasted on Maurice’s finest.
I met Nick Coulter, who along with Chuck Albanese, in April 2015 founded Person Centered Housing Options whose mission is to address, prevent and alleviate chronic homelessness within Monroe County and surrounding communities using the housing first model.
Whatever “person centered” may exactly mean, I could tell Nick embodied it. With pleasure, Nick talked about clients who had taken control of their own lives: getting a job at Wendy’s, paying rent, saying goodbye to huts near the railroad station.
We decided a good way to tell the story of PCHO was through the voices of its clients. Mr. C. who has battled homelessness most of his life and whose epiphany was when he realized people like Nick would miss him if he vanished. Or Jim who found a passion for Roman history. Or Phil who now helps others at LROC and shared two of his photos.
I’ve been homeless and alone all of my life. I was born right here in Rochester, New York in 1953. Starting at a young age I battled with homelessness. Because of this I dropped out of school. During that time, I hitchhiked all around the United States. I made it all the way to the East coast by jumping on to moving trains and jumping off when I got where I needed to be; this really helped me gain knowledge about orientation, allowing me to know where I am in the world. While I was traveling I was able to work small side jobs, which gave me some money to put in my pocket for necessities. I came back to Rochester for a short period of time, until my cataracts got so bad I went blind. I headed down to Florida, hitchhiked down there in nineteen days, and got surgery to help me see again. After surgery I headed back up here to Rochester. I lived near the railroad tracks in a hobo hut. I had a few sleeping bags, blankets, and tarps to help keep me warm, but it wasn’t easy staying warm. I got frostbite and some other sicknesses from being out there in the cold, I honestly feel like a part of myself died out there near the railroad tracks the winter of 2014. At that point I lost hope, I looked to God to help me through those times, but I sometimes felt as if he hated me.
It was November of 2015 when Nick and Chuck found me in my hut. I was planning on moving back down to Florida and renting a boat to live on. I don’t think anyone would have missed me. Nick convinced me to stay by promising me that he would get me into an apartment of my own.
Before I moved into my apartment I had to stay in some shelters that Person Centered Housing Options (PCHO) worked with. I learned that you really had to be patient and tolerant while living in shelters, everyone is different and every situation is different and you don’t know their issues but you have to deal with them. I finally have my own place now and Shelter Plus helps me afford it. It’s not perfect but it’s a lot better than what I had. I hope that I can reconnect with my family now that I have my own place, but we’ll see. Throughout my entire life I’ve learned that it really doesn’t matter how the world sees you, you need to live and be happy with yourself.
It’s all about the end game, having a plan for the future. This is something that PCHO gave me; an answer to the unknown. I’ve been proving myself my whole life and I take pride in being trusted by others and continue to hope for change. It’s a fresh start for me, a new life where I choose, building bridges I’ve never had before and making a life of my own. It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in something yet I have logged well over 35,000 hours immersing myself in Roman history for which which I have an unbelievable passion. While in prison, I read hundreds of books, earned my college degree, and can say with confidence there are probably only a handful of people in the world that know more about Roman history than I do. Still, the system never restores you to full citizenship, and finding a job doing what I love becomes increasingly difficult, often forcing people to settle. A lifetime of crime means that you’re extremely limited. However that does not negate my passion for education, or my dreams of one day filling lecture halls with students.
I want people to know the real me. Even at my worst moments, I was always connected to the real world and had one foot in normal society. I am here, grateful for the recent opportunities and the people that helped me the most, recognizing that every day is a different journey. There’s an old saying that says, “Never let someone work harder for you, than you work for yourself.” Nick’s effort and drive inspired me to rebuild my life in a positive way. I believe that I maintain a valuable set of principles and that accountability, responsibility, and trust are among the most important characteristics in a person, regardless of if they are people you care most about, or a complete stranger. Sometimes in life you only have yourself to count on, thus your words should be taken with gravity; they should count, and they should matter. I’m now taking life seriously because I don’t question that I am a good person. I am worth it.
Great societies waste less talent. – Unknown
Chess is like poker, the more people you get to play the more money you get out of it. – Phil
For many years the Civic Center Parking Garage in downtown Rochester had served as default shelter for the homeless who chose to avoid staying in shelters. This is where Phil met Nick. It wasn’t easy to convince Phil that getting his own place would be a good move for him. It took time for Nick to earn Phil’s trust. Then in May of 2015 Phil gave the go ahead for Nick to start the housing process through PCHO (Person Centered Housing Options). Phil moved into his apartment in November of 2015.
Phil was born in Virginia, but grew up in Jacksonville Florida. When Phil was six his family moved from Jacksonville, Florida to Rochester. Phil’s parents divorced and his mother moved Phil and his brother in with her mother. Phil attended Rochester City Schools from first to sixth grade, then moved to Greece where he remained until graduation. The Greece schools had a school yard and windows; these were small changes from the city schools, but these things enriched Phil’s life.
Phil spends much of his time in libraries reading philosophy books and is interested in questions that lie at the intersection of philosophy of science. Phil’s ideal job was one in which he could apply the knowledge that he gained through reading. A philosopher at heart, Phil choose to not attend college but to continue his informal education. Phil enlisted in the Navy in 1981 and was stationed in San Diego.
It was his first “adult job” and it lasted for two years. Upon discharge from the Navy he moved to Buffalo where he stayed with family but soon wore out his welcome while waiting for the ambitious job that he knew he deserved and was intellectually capable of handling. Phil was holding out for a more sophisticated career rather than the “Burger flipping” small jobs in which he seemed to be stuck.
While waiting for a career opportunity to come his way he spent his time in the public library. Phil considers the time he has spent in the public library to be the equivalent of attending college for free. He said that during this time he requested materials that to others seemed beyond his comprehension. He went to the library every day, treating it as though it was his duty to gain knowledge and presence. Each time he asked for something from the staff, they treated him as a respectable person rather than an ‘invisible’ homeless person.
After a short time, he began helping at Library Resource Outreach Center which works with the homeless.
Phil is still processing his experiences as a homeless person as he transitions into living in an apartment by himself. He says that while the people at Social Services were helpful, he would prefer not to have to deal with them anymore. Once Phil met Nick and Chuck from PCHO he felt that they were able to put “100 yards between him and that place.” Phil says, “Even living in an apartment now, I don’t have everything I need for the apartment just yet.” With help of PCHO he is working toward that goal and believes that the way PCHO works gives more autonomy to homeless people.