Journey Back to Stable Housing: Laura’s Story

IMAG3Several years ago, I came over from Kauai to get help for myself and my sister who needed to access the programs for addiction on Oahu.  I was using treatment as a back-up to my drug use rather than making it a priority, and it underscored my becoming homeless on Oahu. Now I’m using treatment the right way . . . as my primary focus.

I was a consumer in the CHOW Project, a needle exchange program, and it was there that I found out about the Housing First program, so I signed up. Initially, I was housed in Wahiawa for a few months, but it was far from my daily treatment at CHAMP downtown. Not being a morning person made it difficult to get there in a timely way. Sometimes I would choose to stay in Honolulu on the street overnight just to attend my daily treatment in the morning.

From there, things began to snowball. One night while staying in Honolulu on the street, I lost a bag with keys in it, and I wasn’t able to get in to my mailbox. I pried the mailbox open but given that it would no longer lock, the postal carrier wouldn’t deliver my mail and returned my mail to welfare. As a result, my welfare was cut off and I was not able to pay for my electricity bill, so the landlord kicked me out.

What made things finally turn around for me was when my case manager from Hawaii Pathways Project was willing to go with me to talk with welfare about the dilemma. Welfare wouldn’t take my word for it, but with my case manager’s validation of my experience, welfare not only reinstated my benefits but compensated me for six months of back pay! With that I was able to pay off the debt to the electric company the next day and use my own money for a new deposit.IMAG1

Next, I stayed temporarily in the YWCA in Honolulu in a studio with a shared bathroom across the hall. The staff and neighbors were friendly at the YWCA, and it was a good experience for me. Then, I was rehoused in Waikiki into the smallest studio I have ever seen. The landlord had a very negative attitude toward the homeless population. I had friends who came over and helped to provide food and care for me. At one point, I let my very closest friend stay with me, but because she also brought her dog, the landlord chose not to renew my lease.

I was on the move again. This time I moved into a place on Hotel Street, into a one-bedroom apartment with a private bathroom. I loved the staff and knew many of the other residents who also struggled with serious mental illness. However, because the management was going through a transition, I was only there about six weeks.  Once that temporary housing was no longer available, I was back on the streets in Chinatown. The stress was getting to me, and I was falling down frequently. A friend that I had helped once before allowed me to sleep on her couch for about a month until Pathways finally found a place on Ala Moana Boulevard.

I love it in my new spacious studio apartment and I’m really enjoying it. It has a little kitchenette and a full refrigerator so I can cook for myself.  It has a private bathroom with a nice tile shower. It is so close to town that I can practically walk to my treatment program and other services. I can walk everywhere from here! I know people here and it’s a quiet, friendly community. I considered a place on River Street in Chinatown, but if I had a place there everyone would keep asking to sleep over. Here I can avoid the drama. If I get burned out on people I can go home and shut the door.

IMAG2This time I’m not indebted to anyone, and I’m going to keep others out of my apartment. I’m going to really make this work. I hope to become drug-free here. I found out about another program, Matrix, which will help me get off of ice. I have other health issues, and it would be stupid of me to die from them just because I want to keep getting high. Drugs are always going to be there, but I don’t have to choose them. I don’t have to commit to “forever.” I just need to commit to each moment at a time in my sobriety.

It’s the simple things that show me that I’m on my way out of homelessness, like being able to choose to simply carry a purse and not most of my belongings in a backpack. With electricity included as part of my rent, it’s less likely that my housing could be compromised in the future if I ever run into a setback with my income. Once I get settled in here, I’m going to make payment arrangements to clear my debt with the electric company so that I am in good standing with them if I should ever move to a new place. My friends are all congratulating me for getting my apartment.

If I could give advice to others in a similar situation, then it would be to be patient even if it may seem like a long time for housing to happen. It will happen for you. Getting housing clears up a lot of problems. Life becomes worth saving. Relationships go smoother. You get ripped off a lot less. You can choose not to let others into your home. Be patient, sign up for housing and keep working at it. Everybody feels better when they do something for themselves.

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