Story #11

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Feeling connected to the world

BronxWorks Homeless Outreach Team

What do a Yankees game, Orchard Beach, a farmers market, the zoo, and apple-picking have in common?  They are all destinations visited by formerly homeless individuals who, for a brief time on these field trips, feel a connection to the world they were once shunned by.

The trips are organized for clients of the BronxWorks Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) who were once homeless but are now living in transitional, supportive, or permanent housing.  Shauna Barry, HOT Senior Case Manager, comes up with many of the destination ideas, but the clients themselves are now making their own suggestions.

Shauna recalls one individual that decided to go on the apple-picking trip in spite of his difficulty interacting with others.  Bill* is an imposing man of 6’4” and stocky build who uses a cane to walk.  Shauna observed that the camaraderie of the trip brought out a different side of him.  While walking around the orchard, he would reach up with his cane, pull down the higher branches, and call Shauna over to offer her the fruit that no one else could reach.

Ralph Acevedo, HOT’s Program Director, points out one of the more important aspects of the outings:  “On the trips, the participants don’t have to deal with the stress of their daily lives, complete another housing application, or explain why they missed a doctor’s appointment.  They can simply have fun – something that has too often been missing in their lives.”

Joe, another HOT client, is among those who visited the BronxWorks-sponsored Heights Community Farmers Market.  Only a year ago, he was sleeping in the woods of a Bronx park.  He found himself there after a series of devastating setbacks, including the loss of both parents and six other loved ones in the space of five years.  All this would be enough to make anyone shut themselves off from reality and Joe did that successfully for 16 years, his survival fueled by his anger at the world.  Joe said others tried to help him, but it was something about the sincerity, not to mention the tenaciousness, of the HOT staff that finally convinced him that he had reason to hope for something better.  After learning to trust the HOT team, he came off the streets.  He is now living in transitional housing while awaiting permanent placement, and he has a full-time job.  Joe says the trips are “incredible,” and he has learned a lot about himself and others when he goes along.

A trip to a farmers market or the beach may not be your idea of an extraordinary, transformative day, but for HOT clients it often is.  It’s a powerful opportunity for these individuals to engage with the world around them and move beyond the social isolation they typically experience.  But thanks to BronxWorks HOT and the support of good friends and partners like you, no matter where they head out for their next trip, Joe, Bill, and the others happily head to another destination when the day is done: a place they can truly call home.

*Name changed to protect the individual’s privacy.

The BronxWorks Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) is a mobile unit that works with homeless individuals on the streets, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, helping street homeless people get appropriate services and move to safer environments.  HOT staff also help place homeless people in permanent or long-term transitional housing.  Questions or comments?  Send them to info@bronxworks.org.

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