Hunter, a member of the Pathways to Housing DC Golden Triangle Homeless Street Outreach team, first met Eric on the steps of St. Matthew’s Cathedral while he was panhandling for change. Eric is a tall, solidly built, 53 year old man with short hair and a charming smile. He told Hunter that he is a veteran, that he had been homeless for more than 12 years, and that he desperately wanted help to turn his life around. At that time, Eric smoked dangerous synthetic marijuana every day to cope with the prolonged chronic depression he had been living with for years. After a few conversations, Hunter learned that Eric had been going through the same cycle over and over again for nearly a decade: he would ask for help to get his life back together, enter a drug treatment program, but within a month of his pending graduation, he would leave the program and end up back on the streets. Eric felt that it was an impossible task to get clean and sober knowing he was going right back to homelessness. If he was going to prioritize his sobriety, he said he needed a place to come home to. Together, Hunter and Eric decided that Eric would try one more program – but this time it would satisfy both needs of housing and drug treatment.
Eric entered the program and was initially successful: he became sober, found a job, and was even talking about finding his own apartment. However, after eight months, he relapsed again and was asked to leave the program. He was too ashamed to let the Pathways DC Outreach team know of this setback. One morning as Hunter was biking through Dupont Circle for his usual morning rounds, he found Eric sitting on a bench. They talked about why he relapsed and Eric spoke openly about his fears and the overwhelming pressure he felt to find a job and obtain housing on his own. It became clear that a Housing First program would help Eric be the most successful. Hunter got to work entering Eric’s needs into DC’s new Coordinated Entry system, which helps prioritize individuals most in need of housing with the right programs and services. Together, they helped him move into his own apartment last month, and Hunter has not seen him in the park since. Eric told Hunter recently: “Since I moved in, I haven’t wanted to go back!” Eric has started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly, and is looking for a job. While Hunter and Eric know that Eric’s journey to recovery may be a long one, they are confident he will do well with the security of his own home and the support of those around him.