Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Two lives cross in a cool way

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For Otis Thompson, the temperature in his apartment could be stifling on the hottest days this summer. His apartment, obtained as part of our Fortitude Housing program, is his key to staying out of homelessness. He keeps it clean, helps out his neighbors in the building when he can and relishes this opportunity to reclaim his independence.  

But it can get unbearable in there without air conditioning. 
Case manager Melvin Howard (left) smiles with Otis (right).
The AC unit will make a big difference as the heat picks up.

Across the city Scott Sinclair, a recently retired DC resident, worried about his neighbors who could not afford air conditioning and languished in the heat. So he took action.

He purchased 10 brand-new window AC units and went searching for an organization to help him distribute those units to those struggling in the heat. That’s where Catholic Charities came in. The 10 air conditioning units went to teen parents and youth living on their own with our help, adults and families trying to overcome homelessness. This, of course, included Otis Thompson, whom Scott has never met.

Otis was homeless for more than a year after a work accident left him unable to work and the end of his 13-year marriage forced him to move out of his home. He turned to our 801 East men’s shelter for a place to stay when he could no longer afford to live on his own. He was heartbroken, but never hopeless and found strength and support from the shelter staff.

“I only planned to be there for a few days or maybe a week while I got myself back together,” he said. “But one week turned into a month and a month into a year.” Eventually, Otis was accepted into our Fortitude Housing program. The three-year-old program places chronically homeless individuals into their own apartment and then works one-on-one to address their barriers.

For Otis, those barriers never involved alcohol or substance abuse. His marriage ended in part due to a gambling addiction. Since then, he’s walked away from gambling and has maintained a close relationship with his family, including two children heading off to college soon who frequently visit him. But he has struggled to find work due to his injury. It’s hard for him to sit or stand for long and even moderate lifting is out of the question.

“I get job interviews, but when I tell them about my back problems, I never get a call back,” Otis said. He is working with his case manager, Melvin Howard, to begin receiving short-term disability payments. But Melvin Howard also serves as a coach, friend and advocate – and always as a problem-solver. The two were actively searching for an affordable air conditioning unit when Scott Sinclair called with his 10 units.

“The timing could not have been any better,” said Melvin. “We have to stretch every dollar as far as we can to serve as many people as possible, and this was the perfect gift at the perfect moment.”