The telling of, and listening to, stories is an important part of the mission of Christ House. It is often through the stories we hear from patients that we start to learn about their history. Likewise, stories that we tell allow our friends, benefactors, and volunteers to get a more comprehensive feel for the needs of homeless persons in Washington, DC, and how the services we provide help fill some of those needs.
Around our community, David is known as a man of few words. But behind his quiet personality, he has a smile that lights up a room.
David fell in and out of homelessness for over ten years before coming to Christ House. He started drinking when he was thirteen and struggled with addiction for several decades. One night, David tripped and fell into a hole. He was in tremendous pain and had trouble walking, so he checked himself into the emergency room the next morning.
“I feel a lot better now, and I have hope. I’m looking forward to a better future.” – David
After David was discharged with a fractured ankle in a boot, he returned to the area behind a library where he had been living. He endured life outside with a broken ankle even as winter approached and the weather worsened. When he began to fear catching pneumonia, David took himself to see a shelter clinician whom he had maintained on-and-off contact with for many years. Coincidentally, that clinician was a former Christ House Year Long Volunteer. She recognized his need for serious medical attention and called our intake coordinator. Later that day, David was admitted to Christ House.
“I had no idea how sick I was,” David recalls. At Christ House, he discovered that he was borderline diabetic, at high risk for strokes, and had heart problems. David needed a level of care that would offer support far beyond treatment for his physical injury. He found just that at Christ House.
Nine months later, David is one of the most engaged members of our community. He successfully graduated from our New Day program and continues to attend as many Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings as he can. David recently joined the Kairos Program, where he has his own apartment, volunteers at Christ House, and walks with confidence—and a contagious smile on his face.
Reflecting on his journey, David notes that recovery isn’t easy. But despite the challenges, David says, “I feel a lot better now, and I have hope. I’m looking forward to a better future.”
Tony is a patient who exemplifies the complex medical and social issues that we work with on a daily basis. After spending the night in front of Christ House, Tony sought help from the medical staff on the early morning shift. He had been living in an alleyway, was using his bicycle as a make-shift walker, hadn’t eaten in days, and struggled to speak through tears. While he was just 43 years old, his condition was that of someone nearly twice his age. We immediately admitted him as a patient.
Tony lacked stability for decades. He lived on and off the streets and developed a dangerous cocaine dependence. The only home he had ever known was his mother’s house. He worked as a janitor for a time, but a gunshot wound made manual labor a challenge. Unfortunately, when his mother passed away, his siblings barred him from the house. Suddenly, Tony was without a family or a home.
Our medical team helped Tony continue his recovery from his debilitating gunshot wound. Tony’s case manager found that his siblings had cheated him out of his rightful share of profits from the sale of his mother’s house, so we guided him towards legal action to collect these crucial funds. Meanwhile, Tony worked through the feelings of betrayal he felt towards his family. Despite this pain, he put on a cheerful face for the rest of the community. He made an effort to be optimistic every day and became known for his friendliness. When graduating from the New Day Addictions Recovery program, he thanked the Christ House community “for believing in me and for helping me to believe in myself.”
Tony decided to join Christ House’s Kairos Program. While healing, he participated in the work program, began to exercise on a regular basis, and overall, felt very satisfied to be a part of the supportive recovery community.
A Second Chance
Melvin became a Christ House patient twice in 2015. He first arrived in January very weak from lung problems, malnourished, addicted to substances, and struggling with bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, he could not fully commit to his recovery and chose to leave early and return to the streets. Melvin was a veteran, but had been homeless for over a decade. He lived a very isolated life on the streets and had no contact with his family due a deep sense of shame.
In the fall of 2017, Melvin returned to Christ House of his own accord. He had hit rock bottom and admitted that continuing his life on the streets would kill him. During this second stay, he had a drastically different outlook and was motivated to take the necessary steps forward. He followed our addictions recovery program closely and attended all of the spiritual life meetings. Our medical team helped him to recover from a knee injury and manage his lung issues. He found a therapeutic escape in creating artwork and never missed our weekly volunteer-led art class. Due to his veteran status, his case manager was able to secure an apartment for him at a permanent supportive housing program.
Melvin was happy to move into a place of his own and succeed in his recovery, but seemed to find the greatest satisfaction in making his family proud. He reunited with his daughter, who encouraged him in his recovery, and was even able to move in just around the corner from his sister.
Fire in the Night
Steven served in the Navy’s submarine service and received an honorable discharge. He became homeless but remained self-sufficient. Each morning, he packed his tent and his belongings on his bike, pedaled to his gym where he showered, and went to his job at a bakery. One night, someone set his tent on fire while he was sleeping inside. He suffered second degree burns and all of his belongings were destroyed.
After receiving treatment at an area hospital’s burn unit, when most patients would transition to in-home medical care, Steven was sent to Christ House. Our staff assisted Steven with cleaning his wounds and applying new dressings. Through this process, he quickly learned how to care for his burns on his own. He was also able to offer his success story and wisdom to our addictions recovery class, since he chose to get sober several years prior to his arrival at Christ House.
Steven took a great deal of ownership in creating his discharge plan. His Christ House case manager helped him to set up ongoing medical and mental health care, secure a spot in a transitional housing program, and join the compensated work therapy program through Veterans Affairs. When he left, he was well positioned to move into permanent housing and a stable job in the near future.
Yonas emigrated from Eritrea as a young man and became a U.S. citizen. After working as a food court manager for over a decade, he lost his job. When he failed to secure a steady job, he became homeless. He had no family in the area to lean on and yet he was determined to remain self-sufficient. He did not use any of the resources available to the homeless, such as shelters and soup kitchens. He picked up enough odd jobs to buy food and clothing, but because he used all of his energy to meet his day-to-day needs he was unable secure a well-paid, permanent position that would lift him out of homelessness.
A local hospital sent Yonas to Christ House after he developed cellulitis (a serious bacterial infection) because he did not have health insurance to purchase the necessary antibiotics. His case manager at Christ House enrolled him in health insurance and our medical team taught him how to manage his treatment independently.
The shame that Yonas felt due to being homeless hurt his ability to interview for jobs confidently. His case manager enrolled him in Aim Hire, a program that helps individuals with the job searching process. After weeks of job searching every day, he got a job at Panera Bread. While working, Yonas lived in a temporary housing program and became determined to save enough money to rent a place of his own.