Boston Project Rebound Re-Entry Services, Inc.
THE STORY OF RICKY’S JOURNEY
(From Released from jail, to homeless, to a job and now housed!)
By Ricky G.
Stupid me. I thought I was all set with my plan once I was released from jail. I would go to the Probation Office and get a transfer and get on the next bus to New York City.
I would get to New York City and go directly to the Doe Fund. They provide employment and housing for those just released from jail. I would rather go there than be a burden to my family.
So, on the day that I was released from jail, I reported to the Probation Office only to be informed that my request for a transfer had been denied.
Nowhere else to go and nowhere to turn I had to quickly come up with a PLAN B. Prior to my release, I did the research and had put together a plan that included a list of shelters and a rating system for staff, cleanliness and safety procedures. Most shelters house as many as 500 men. The Shattuck houses just 120 men. I finally found a place to rest my head while I get the rest of my shit together.
I arrived at the Shattuck just in time for dinner. Dinner was a hospital type meal with plenty of extras. After dinner, I received fresh linen, hygiene products and was pointed in the direction of the nearest clean bed. I later learned that the place is cleaned and sanitized on a daily basis.
Breakfast at the shelter was French toast and bacon. But after breakfast, we had only an hour to get ourselves together and leave the shelter for the day. The shelter is closed from 8am until 4pm. So, we have to figure out what to do to keep busy and out of trouble for the bulk of the day until we are allowed to return to the shelter.
A must have item for a homeless person is a backpack. I didn’t have one, but I knew how to get one. I called a local church, spoke to the pastor and asked him if he had any backpacks at his church’s lost & found. He asked me to come in the next day and he would take care of me. I lucked out! When I got to the church, the pastor gave me a backpack and an envelope with $25. I took the backpack, but I gave back the envelope full of money. I might be homeless, but I still had my pride. I could never take money from the church! We reached a compromise where he would take back the envelope but offered me a one-week train pass. We went from his office to the kitchen where he made me a nice lunch. And that was the beginning of our friendship.
Another friend was nice enough to invite me to his barbershop in downtown Boston. This shop was located in the heart of the city. (A few blocks from my lawyer’s office, a few blocks to my court mandated counseling and another few blocks from the Probation Office). He gave me a tour of the shop and showed me where I can store my gear. A few minutes later, he handed me a key to the barbershop and to his office. (That was the same guy who picked me up when I was released from jail, no questions asked!)
With only the clothes on my back, he offered to take me to Walmart and help me get some clothes, hygiene products and under wears, etc. He spent more than $200 on me that day. (When I got my first paycheck a few months later and offered to pay back that money, he simply refused.)
Another must for a homeless person is a train pass. Especially since all Boston shelters are closed for maintenance from 8am to 4pm. So, we have to walk from one end of Boston to the other in order to kill time. Boston is small, so that’s no problem but when it’s cold or snowing, one has to resort to public transportation. Only one problem, no money and no train pass. But I quickly learned the “homeless hustle”. (Look for someone exiting the system and ask them to swipe a ride for you.) Or ask the Transit Ambassador for a free ride. Thank God Steve, Mike (Boston Project Rebound) came to the rescue with many Charlie Cards (and other useful items!).
The shelter provides a full breakfast and a filling dinner. But we are on our own for lunch. So, on the first day of wandering around and trying to kill time, I was getting hungry. I noticed a fast food place and quickly realized that I had no money. So, I stood by the doorway and pan handled for a meal. After an hour and no luck, a lady was nice enough to offer a bag full of fries, burgers and a beverage. Thank God for the kindness of strangers. But it was embarrassing enough to keep me from doing that on a regular basis.
St. Francis House is a day program. They offer a place to hang from 8:30am until 2:30pm. They offer breakfast, lunch, case management, clothing and mail call service. I would have my lunch there each day until the case manager helped me get food stamps. He also helped me get a reduced rate, senior train pass (Charlie Card) as well.
A few weeks into wandering the streets, I met Officer Artie. Officer Artie is the liaison between the Boston Police Department and the homeless shelter. Officer Artie invited me to an upcoming RESOURCE FAIR. And at that fair, Officer Artie arranged for me to get a brand-new pair of sneakers, underwear, and a one-week train pass as well. Officer Artie is a sweet heart and the REAL DEAL!
Several months passed and Fall quickly turned to Winter. I had a hoodie, but I didn’t have a winter coat. I met a case manager who worked for the Boston Rescue Mission. She was able to get me several sweatshirts and a winter coat. Again, thank God for the kindness of strangers!
I now have a coat, but I don’t have a hat, scarf, and gloves. I am much too proud to ask my family for such things. And then I met Jeff. Jeff is an older gentleman who lost his son to a drug a few years back. His son was living in the streets when he died. Jeff shows up at the shelter with his Toyota Prius once a week. He opens his trunk and a line quickly forms. Jeff hands out hats, gloves, scarfs and thermo socks. I pray for people like Jeff for his continued generosity.
In order to get a locker at the shelter, one has to earn it. One month of steady attendance and not causing any kind of trouble will quickly earn one a locker. Carrying a backpack all over the city quickly builds muscles and earns one a sore back as well. So, I was grateful to earn a locker in less than a month. Another lesson is learning what to keep and what to give away. There is only so much room in that locker. The locker is the size of a dresser draw and can only fit three changes of clothes. So, I don’t accept anything that I can’t fit into my locker or my backpack.
My friend at the barbershop realized that I needed a place to store my extra stuff. He then offered me a bottom drawer of the rather large filing cabinet. Enough to store my personal papers and my extra clothes. That cabinet had a lock and he offered me the only other key. My stuff was safe and secured but I was still paranoid about my personal papers.
Things seem to be going ok. At least I thought so. Then a series of panic attacks, uncertainties, paranoia, anxiety and depression led me to several emergency room visits. Then I was assigned to a very young but experienced therapist. I meet with him on a regular basis and have not missed a session since. And I haven’t had a panic attack since.
It’s Christmas Eve. I hate the holidays. Despite being surrounded by a large group of men, I am still lonely and homesick. There is talk around the shelter of a man who hands out $100 bills to the panhandling homeless in the Downtown area. I quickly make my way to Downtown Crossing in the hopes of getting that $100 bill. I found my way to the Macy’s Downtown location. It looks like a good spot as any. I take a coffee cup and stand by the store’s main entrance. I shake the change inside the cup for an hour. I made $7. I’m so embarrassed, I leave and never return.
A group of women from the local Baptist church provides holiday meals for the men at the shelter. They cook the meal at their church and bring it over to the shelter. Fried chicken, turkey, ham, homemade mash potatoes, stuffing, rice, etc. I heard that this group of women provided holiday meals for the men at the shelter for many years.
A group of parishioners from the local Catholic Church stop by once a week to provide cookies, cakes, ice cream and other goodies for the men at the shelter. I think I gained 10 pounds
Covid-19 hits. The shelter is taking steps to keep us safe. Social distance is a problem. The Suffolk University Dorms becomes available. Fifty of the best-behaved shelter guests are invited to move. I made the cut. Going from 120 “roommates” to just one “dormmate!”. My friend offered me a “behind the scenes” job at the barbershop during the pandemic. I owe this man everything and would work for free. But instead we reached a compromise that would include him paying for my train pass, cell phone, bike membership and some pocket change.
I also keep myself busy by bike riding five miles, several days a week. The Blue Bike Rental company offers a special rate for seniors on a fixed income ($5 per month). My friend pays for the membership for me.
And then college students get ready to move back into the dorms. The Best Western Hotel on Boston’s Methadone Mile becomes available. Twenty-five of the best dorm guests are invited to move into the hotel. I am placed in a suite with only one other person. We are immediately notified that accommodations are temporary and that we should make other arrangements by January 2021. The assistant director offers me a job. He asked me to take over the laundry room. I work a part-time four hour a day, five days a week at minimum wage.
That job led to another full time job. That full time job leads to permanent housing in a Pine Street apartment in Allston, Ma.
At first, I was against writing this journal that my therapist asked me to put together. But after re-reading the journey steps that I’ve taken so far, it helped me to learn to be grateful for every little thing that comes my way. For each person who has blessed me through their generosity. And for the struggles that has helped me look at life through a clearer pair of glasses (so to speak!).