|"From the first moment I met my team at Pathways DC, they treated me with dignity and respect and became my allies."
My name is William and I’ve always had a love of photography. Although I attended Howard University for Communications, I left to pursue photography full time in the 80s and, for a while, I made a living doing what I loved. Unfortunately, times changed, and I quickly discovered I could no longer support myself with photography alone. In order to survive, I began working as a day laborer for a construction company. I soon secured a job at the Pentagon as a painter, allowing me to get back into the world of art, even if it was painting walls and touching up doorways.
After 9/11, the contract for the Pentagon switched companies and I was laid off. Unable to find work, my life spiraled out of control and I eventually lost my home. For a period of time, I floated between friends’ apartments, saving a little money working odd jobs. I was then able to afford to rent a small room in an apartment in NW DC. In 2006, I was illegally evicted from my home. I had no one to turn to and nowhere to go.
Nothing could prepare me for the reality of living on the street. Not knowing where I would find my next meal or where I would lay my head at night, forced me to live in survival mode. Eventually, I found an abandoned church, which became my regular place to sleep. At that time in my life, I avoided people as much as possible. I was so invisible to the world that one day workers boarded up the hole that I was using to get inside the church, trapping me inside. Too afraid of being discovered, I waited for hours until I was certain that the workers were gone, and then kicked out the wooden boards to escape.
To hide where I was sleeping, I temporarily kept my belongings under the overhang of an abandoned car wash next door to the church. One day, I watched the police remove everything I owned from the car wash and put it into a garbage truck. I was left with nothing. After the police took my belongings, I almost gave up, but a man from the Department of Behavioral Health asked if he could help. He offered me a cup of coffee and after a few meetings referred me to Pathways to Housing DC.
From the first moment I met my team at Pathways DC, they treated me with dignity and respect and became my allies. Immediately, my team helped me get my birth certificate and ID, which allowed me to apply for Social Security Disability and food stamps. I also started opening up about my experience on the street and began accepting mental health services. Throughout all of this, my team worked hard to find me housing, and within six months, I was handed the keys to my new apartment. For the first time in a long time I had a sense of hope again.
Now that I’m back in my own home, I’ve learned that receiving the keys to my apartment was only the first step in the recovery of my life. Pathways DC is a constant support system for me, helping to confront every challenge I face.
Now that I have the security of a home, I can focus on things beyond day-to-day survival. I’ve once again found my passion for art and community engagement by working with others through my community initiative, The ECO Project, which strives to make the city beautiful through the construction of tree boxes and the planting of gardens, one neighborhood block at a time. All of this would not have been possible without Pathways DC; they gave me the ingredients for success and the ability to navigate the system to get the help that I needed. They saved my life and I’ll always be grateful for that.