Neal first experienced homelessness in 2012, and like many individuals who have been homeless in our community, he never imagined it would happen to him.
Neal was born and raised in St. Louis, but San Francisco has been his home for nearing on 40 years. He was living in Noe Valley with his wife of ten years, and since her family had reasonable means, they were living a stable life. When his wife was diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Neal was able to stay home to take on the role of full-time caregiver. He couldn’t leave her alone for more than fifteen minutes at a time, and over the next few years she deteriorated to a point where she didn’t know who he was. It was a heartbreaking decline, and as she worsened her family made the difficult decision to bring her home to Texas and vacate their San Francisco residence. However, due to complications of their residence being in his wife’s name, Neal was forced to leave his home and found himself homeless, navigating the San Francisco shelter system alone.
For two years Neal was in and out of shelters, in crowded spaces, living without privacy or stability alongside hundreds of other men trying to survive without a permanent place to live. After two years, in April 2014, his counselor connected him to a spot that had opened up at the Essex – one of Community Housing Partnership’s supportive housing residences in the Tenderloin.
Coming to the Essex was “a little spot of heaven,” Neal shares. He had privacy and stability again. Over the next four years of living at the Essex, Neal worked with Community Housing Partnership Resident Services Counselors to regain stability in his life, recover from two years of shelter life, and work towards his ultimate goal: getting a place of his own.
When it comes to recovering from homelessness and stabilizing one’s life, everyone’s journey and goals are different. For Neal, he knew the Essex would just be a transition back to independence, and even as much as he immersed himself in the community – befriending fellow residents and getting close with Resident Services staff – he never lost sight of that goal.
Working with staff at the Essex, Neal was approved in early fall of 2018 for his own one-bedroom apartment on Geary Street. “Now my whole life is going to start getting a whole lot better,” Neal proudly shares as he awaits his big move. “It’s good here now, but there’s always more room for opportunity and growth.”
Neal is excited to have a new apartment with a tub, a gas stove and oven in which he can really enjoy his hobbies of cooking and baking (especially ham, fried chicken, and cookies, he shares), a backyard, and even a garage. As he gets settled, he is looking into going back to school at San Francisco City College – which, thanks to Community Housing Partnership’s advocacy victory in 2017, Neal can attend for free. In a word, Neal shares he feels “thrilled” about his new home and this opportunity.
What will Neal miss about his time at the Essex? “In a way I will miss everything,” Neal shares. “This was my home for four years. That’s why I say when I move, I am going to still come back here to visit; because the four years I’ve been here – going on five – I’ve made a lot of friends in this building, even with the counselors. I can’t just walk from that part of my life and not see them anymore. They have done so much for me.”
Neal is one of 1,700 people currently living in Community Housing Partnership’s supportive residences who have been given the opportunity to rebuild their lives and regain stability. It’s a simple-but-powerful idea, pairing housing with support services to give individuals like Neal who have experienced homelessness a safe space to heal, grow, and thrive. These spaces create stability, empowerment, and most of all hope. “Always have patience and hope like I did,” Neal wants to remind us. “Believe things will work out for you, and you can make it happen.”
Now, because Neal is moving out of supportive housing, that means there is an open space for someone else in need to begin their journey back to stability as well.
You too can make amazing things happen for other individuals who have experienced homelessness like Neal. Make a donation today to fuel more life-saving, life-changing programs to serve your neighbors who are struggling in 2019.