Alcoholic parents and an unstable home left Matt homeless at 14. After 30 years of bouncing from shelters to rooming houses to the streets, he’s bouncing back.
Matt was a 14-year-old growing up on the North Shore in the dead center of the awkward years: puberty, trying to find his place in high school, trying to assert his independence and test his limits. In addition to the usual challenges that go along with growing up, his parents struggled with alcoholism and addiction, and that instability ultimately left him homeless. He stayed that way for 30 years, sleeping in shelters, on the streets, or in rooming houses if he could afford them.
Then, he spent the night in an emergency shelter run by Action Inc. in Gloucester, a United Way of Massachusetts Bay partner agency. It would be the first stop on his road out of homelessness.
Action Inc. understands the kinds of challenges people like Matt face on a regular basis because, while no two cases are the same, they see shades of his situation every day. That familiarity has allowed them to build an expertise in offering solutions for people like Matt and connecting with them on the ground. Their services include an emergency shelter, individualized case management, job training and education, housing services, and more. Families experiencing homelessness have access to these resources, as well as those facing addiction and mental and physical health issues that keep them from living stable lives.
Joe McEvoy, Action Inc.’s Director of Planning and Development, knows people in situations like Matt’s sometimes desperately need the kind of help his agency offers. “Like most people, when Matt arrived in our shelter, it was clear he needed some stability in his life and someone to help him and believe in him. A lot of the guests in our shelter are disconnected from friends and family, and a lot of people have given up on them. We want to try to help them build a better life for themselves and work on the challenges they’ve faced in life so they can get back on track. When we were able to get Matt a place in our Housing First Program. Our ultimate goal was getting him situated in a stable, safe environment that would help facilitate his recovery. We find that giving people that security is a huge first step toward overcoming other challenges in their lives.”
Even if they don’t find their way out of homelessness right away, Action Inc. clients, or “guests,” start receiving other kinds of support immediately. It begins at the shelter, where staff and guests establish a baseline of services and resources guests will use to get back on their feet. This initial support is designed to help guests address the underlying factors that caused them to experience homelessness in the first place.
Together, staff help develop a “moving on plan” specific to guests’ needs. As Joe explains, “The plan is designed to assist our guests in overcoming barriers, whether it’s working on finding mental health treatment, fighting substance use disorder, finding a home, or whatever else they’re facing. Our shelter case managers and main office advocates work in tandem, helping guests work on immediate challenges and set longer-term goals.”
Action Inc.’s advocates work with guests like Matt to address urgent, short term issues, like finding them housing (if they haven’t already found it) and helping them land a job that will sustain them into the long term. For those guests who want a more private space to work on achieving sobriety or other sensitive issues, Action Inc. also offers a recovery safe space program. The program, “Our Place,” provides a safe space for people seeking recovery coaching and services. They can also take part in education and training, crafts classes, yoga, and other holistic means of achieving and maintaining their sobriety.
Matt made use of many of Action Inc.’s services, but his road to recovery wasn’t a straight line. When he moved into his own apartment, he was still drinking. With his newfound security, Matt realized he finally had a chance to transform his life. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, and for almost nine months, Matt worked both with Action Inc. and on his own to achieve sobriety.
Now that he no longer felt the need to drink, Matt wanted to do more to rebuild the life he lost for three decades. He reached out to family he hadn’t heard from in years, and it didn’t take long before he’d reconnected to both his mother and his brother. These days he speaks to both of them regularly.
Matt didn’t want to stop there. He made a concerted effort to get out in the community and make brand new connections. He found a girlfriend who loves and supports him, and in late 2018, Matt completed a computer skills class at Wellspring’s House, also a United Way partner agency. He’s even begun working on a plan to attend a local community college.
While they know he’s doing well, Action Inc. continues to check in with Matt on a weekly basis. Check-ins are quick, and they’re always satisfied with his progress, with Matt regularly seeing the dentist and staying up to date with all of his medications. More than that, they want to continue to support Matt in his sobriety, his mental and physical health, and sometimes just to make sure that everything is still trending positively.
Today, Matt’s extremely grateful for the life Action Inc. helped him build, but he knows there are others who still need to find their own way out of homelessness. Today, Matt wants to become an addiction counselor someday, and started taking adult education classes at a local community college. Matt knows he’s come a long way in his years with Action Inc., and with their team at his back and by his side, he’s going to help even more people find the kind of success he achieved.
Snapshot: How we’re helping to end homelessness
- $5.7M – United Way’s annual investment in Ending Homelessness
- 10,264 – Families in crisis who avoided homelessness last year
We work with 77 strategic partner agencies in 142 communities to end family homelessness. Our partners include:
- Action Inc.
- The Lynn Housing Authority and Neighborhood Development
- The Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance
- Children’s Health Watch
- Project Hope