When BRC's Street Homeless Outreach teams first made contact with Damian he was "living" alone under a bridge in West Harlem, in a homeless encampment named The Bat Cave in an article on the front page of The New York Times. It was the spring of 2006, and Damian appeared lost, a shell of a man, his eye vacant, his affect depressed, and his behavior paranoid and untrusting. Damian expressed feelings of devastation and shared that he frequently contemplated ending his life. But he quickly came to trust the outreach worker with whom he developed a bond. In June 2006, Damian agreed to take a ride in the outreach van. The plan was to spend a few nights in BRC's Drop-in Center on the Bowery until a bed became available in BRC's Reception Center, a residential program for homeless men and women struggling with mental illness. At both locations, Damian would have access to medical and psychiatric care, as well as a safe and caring environment, and food cooked on the premises. After two nights at the BRC Drop-in Center, Damian moved to the Reception Center, where he resided for the next 6 months.
Upon entering the Reception Center, Damian was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder (depressed type) and Polysubstance Dependence. In other words, Damian was not only homeless, but battling severe mental illness and drug addiction. Damian shared that at the age of 27 he had become addicted to crack, which led to him being arrested and incarcerated and becoming estranged from his wife and children. Now almost 10 years later, Damian felt hopeless and found himself running out of options, and hope. But he wasn't ready to give up on himself just yet.
While at the Reception Center, Damian participated in the art therapy program. At first, he did not share much. Soon, however, he began to find the value in engaging in art as a way of processing one's pain and finding a positive way to achieve future success. With this renewed sense of hope, Damian also agreed to participate in individual art therapy sessions. With tremendous courage and perseverance, Damian engaged in the process, unveiling the origins of his addiction, homelessness, and trauma.
The isolated man who barely uttered a word is now a respected member of the BRC community. His artwork and spoken words inspire other residents, offering a sense of hope and resilience as was evident in his poetry reading at BRC's Art Show this Fall. Damian has now been clean and sober for 6 months; and, in December, he moved out of the Reception Center and into his own home, stable in his health and sobriety, and confident in himself and the future. He returns to BRC weekly to participate in the art therapy program and other activities, as he manages his new found independence, taking on life with rediscovered confidences. No longer a BRC client, he is still a part of our family, and we are a part of his, and BRC will always be there for him.
So the next time you see someone who is homeless, think of Damian, and don't give up hope. Indeed, you can give hope; instead of giving change, give that person a chance to change, and call the BRC Homeless Helpline: 212-533-5151. They'll send our outreach teams. And perhaps the next success story you read will be the one you helped make happen.