Eva wasn’t a typical BronxWorks Heights Senior Center member when she started coming to the center, as she’d been homeless for almost 20 years, sleeping in parks and on rooftops and sporadically with family or friends. She found compassion in its director, Rosalina Luongo (pictured left), but Rosalina knew that Eva (center) needed much more than the services the center could provide.
Life has dealt Eva hardships from a young age; as a seven-year-old, she witnessed her mother cover herself in gasoline and burn herself to death. She was raised by her father in a very poor household in Puerto Rico until she moved here with an aunt as a young adult. Since then, Eva’s life has taken many difficult twists and turns, in no small part because she’s been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. Due to her mental illness, Eva gets easily agitated and can have an aggressive temperament, but her homelessness had prevented her from accessing consistent treatment. Over the years, she has needed psychiatric hospitalization almost a dozen times. Eva was also seriously injured in a car accident a few years ago and has other chronic health issues including diabetes and hypertension.
After slowly getting to know Eva, Rosalina reached out in early 2012 to her colleagues and was able to help Eva connect with BronxWorks’ homeless services. Nohely Suarez (right), a case manager for the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT), began working with Eva last March. Upon first meeting Nohely and HOT staff, Eva reflects that “at first, it was hard. I’ve always been a person that has to do things for myself. I wondered how these young folks were going to help me.”
But as Eva received Nohely’s constant support she adapted, learning that she had to “put in my part,” and by working together she learned to trust Nohely. They were able to quickly secure Eva a room in a transitional housing facility, the first real place she had to stay in 18 years. Eva was thrilled with that, but finding a permanent home was their overarching goal. In September, Eva moved into her own apartment in a supportive housing facility. More than simply a safe, warm place to sleep, this home has helped Eva regain her sense of dignity and control, and she’s made great strides in managing her mental illness. Nohely found that the “key factor for Eva was connecting her with psychiatric services, as her illness had gone untreated for a long time.”
Eva takes great pride in her new apartment. She finds joy in keeping it clean and is thrilled that she is able to have her children over to visit. She loves to prepare all kinds of food for her guests in the microwave of her kitchenette. Another not-so-small indicator of her progress is a calendar on Eva’s wall, where she keeps track of her appointments with her case managers, doctors, etc., something she used to need Nohely’s help with.
“What happiness I feel!” Eva marvels, bringing tears to her eyes. She remembers when her friends and family didn’t believe that she could ever have her own place to live. Now, when Eva receives her SSI support, “the first thing I do is pay my rent!” she says.
Thinking back on the challenges she’s overcome to bring her where she is now, Eva repeats this mantra: “If you want it, you can do it. If you can do it, you will do it.” With the support of BronxWorks staff, programs, partners, and friends like you, Eva is now living a happy, healthy life in her new home. We are grateful to all those who make this progress possible for Eva and the many others like her.
BronxWorks is a leader in the effort to solve homelessness, reducing the number of people living on the streets in the Bronx since 2005 by 71%. BronxWorks employs an innovative “housing first” model that focuses on securing housing for an individual first, then focusing on mental health, substance abuse, or other issues that may have contributed to or been the cause of their homeless situation. The safety and stability of a place to live combined with support services increases long-term success for formerly homeless individuals. Questions or comments? Send them to email@example.com.
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