After being laid off from working at a gas station 25 years ago, Peter* found himself homeless with nothing but the clothes on his back. As a Nigerian immigrant who spoke broken English and faced complex physical and mental health challenges, he was convinced his situation was permanent.
Peter survived by sleeping near agencies that provided food such as Bread of Life and Star of Hope, in a part of downtown Houston largely populated by people experiencing homelessness. Peter was known to our local homeless response system since 2004, with hundreds of medical and social services provided by agencies including The Harris Center over the years. After spending almost 10 years with little to no interaction with local homeless organizations, he began to reengage. Peter was known to SEARCH Homeless Services outreach team members as someone who was always polite – but stubborn – reaffirming he didn’t need any additional services.
In January 2018, SEARCH’s outreach team committed to a consistent presence near an encampment close to where Peter was living to provide progressive engagement opportunities to the residents there. One day, Peter decided to greet an outreach team member while they were doing a housing assessment. The outreach specialist greeted Peter and simply asked, “Would you be interested in getting an apartment?” and Peter responded with a surprised and resounding, “Well… yes!”
The next challenge Peter faced was renewing his U.S. residency and securing his immigration status. With no identification of any kind, this process can prove to be lengthy and disheartening. Luckily, SEARCH was able to coordinate with the Coalition for the Homeless to identify a Permanent Supportive Housing program at Temenos Place Apartments II, a property of Temenos CDC, that would accept Peter while he was still working on his immigration status.
As the SEARCH team began to get to know Peter better, he revealed he hadn’t had a shower in over five years. A visit was then scheduled with Healthcare for the Homeless – Houston to provide him with a shower, care for any hygiene-related issues, and to discuss some of his physical ailments. While living in his apartment at Temenos Place Apartments II, Peter would be provided with case management as well as healthcare with SEARCH and Healthcare for the Homeless – Houston staff on-site.
On a recent Tuesday, Peter arrived at his new home. As he took a tour, Peter admired his new apartment and the building – a place he could call his own for the first time in 25 years. He received his key and said, “This is great – I think I’ll return Friday.” The staff were immediately alarmed and worried he wouldn’t return at all. But sure enough Peter returned Friday, ready to get settled into his new space.
“I hope I can grow accustomed to living inside again,” Peter said, showing a slight bit of apprehension towards the changes in his life. And as he took it all in, he turned to the staff and said, “So, how can I pay you for the services you have provided me?” to which the staff laughed and replied, “Peter, don’t you worry – it was a gift!”
*Name has been changed to protect client privacy.