“I wanted to come to a shelter and get myself right on my own terms.” This has been the guiding light for Joey’s journey from chronic homelessness to stable housing. For Joey and his sibling, chronic homelessness was a way of life for nearly a decade.
After graduating from high school, Joey enrolled at Cedar Crest College in Allentown to study technical and creative writing. During the second semester, Joey came out as transgender at this historically women’s college. Joey felt the need to leave and went to another college. Joey returned to Cedar Crest after one semester and was welcomed, accepted, and among others who identified as transgender. Joey completed his studies and graduated in 2015.
After graduation, Joey moved in with his partner in upstate New York. The relationship ended and he had nowhere to go. It was Joey’s first time experiencing homelessness. He moved back in with his mother who had recently married a man who was violent and threatened to kill Joey.
The Journey Through Chronic Homelessness
Looking for stability for himself and his sibling, they returned to live with their father. Life wasn’t any better, as their father became abusive, controlling, and hated the gender identities of both Joey and his sibling, who identifies as non-binary. They fled to a shelter that provided a hotel stay for them during the pandemic. It was a temporary solution, something familiar to people who experience chronic homelessness. With time running out, they moved into a barely habitable apartment. Their complaints about the apartment were followed by the landlord asking them to leave. Once again, Joey became homeless.
Joey’s sibling went to live with a friend. Joey came to Opportunity House.
“It was 1 am when I showed up at Opportunity House. I was scared. I went to bed,” said Joey. At 6 am the next morning, Joey faced the stark reality of the situation. “I was disoriented, scared and afraid,” noted Joey. The staff explained the rules, processes, and procedures to help Joey adjust to life in the shelter.
Having a case manager who worked directly with Joey was helpful but being homeless triggered Joey’s anxiety. Joey ignored his mental health. He was asked to leave the shelter. That was the turning point in his life. He took action and got the mental health treatment he needed. He returned to the shelter and began advocating for himself and his goal of being permanently and sustainably housed forever.
Small steps forward encouraged Joey along the way. He became a senior resident at Opportunity House. As a senior resident, you have specific tasks and responsibilities that enhance community living and they serve as mentors to others experiencing homelessness.
“People trusted me, and I felt like I could become that person who kept a job for years instead of bouncing around from job to job,” noted Joey. Eventually, Joey moved into permanent housing and worked as an overnight staff person at the desk at Opportunity House. This work schedule allowed Joey to continue his studies at Wilkes University.
Today, Joey lives in an apartment and will graduate with his master’s degree in Playwriting. He will begin a customer service job with a local utility company while continuing to pursue playwriting opportunities.
Looking Back at The Final Chapter of Chronic Homelessness
Reflecting on his journey through chronic homelessness, Joey shares what inspires him to become a better, stronger, and more confident version of himself. “I am a creative, driven, and passionate person.” Every person who is homeless is an individual with a diverse background, different hopes, dreams, and goals. Those dreams and goals don’t stop when you become homeless,” Joey explained. Rather than viewing all homeless as a homogenous group, it’s better to look at each person as an individual.
“I will always remember where I came from and what I’ve been through,” said Joey. “Some people will have to experience homelessness to understand it. I hope that others will hear my story and it will help them understand the experience.”
Photo credit: Katerina Holmes
(c) Opportunity House 2024