Sunday, September 4, 2011

Recovery Intercepts Homeless Sooner Than Later

Noel meets with Donaldson after reading Times article
Since the story of the Homeless Initiative broke in a recent Sunday issue of the St Pete Times I have received a number of telephone calls from its readers. Some have called with an interest in helping but most who have called found themselves homeless and in need of help.

I wanted to tell the story of one such homeless man named Noel who had been living out if his pickup truck. I agreed to meet Noel at a Town N' Country McDonalds where we sat down over coffee to discuss his problem.

This is an important assessment phase in the recovery process since early on I realized that not all homeless candidates are created equal. Successful recovery is not the one-size-fits-all cliche that is broadcast as an all encompassing cure-all for rehabilitation.

What's more interesting is now that the homeless initiative has been helping people for more than fourteen months -- the word is out, and we're catching the homeless in our nets much earlier. Noel has been homeless for just two months compared to an average time of three or fours years as we were finding when the recovery effort first started.

Even though Noel was homeless he had all the right stuff to get a leg up on his recovery. When asked why he was homeless he took responsibility for his complacency and feeling comfortable in a job that he had for almost ten years. Noel said he failed to make his skills more marketable -- he stayed in the same job for ten years and never expanded his scope of knowledge and his hourly wage reflected that, he said.

The first thing I suggested for Noel was to shave his greying goatee. It might seem like scant advice but prospective employers like to see a clean-shaven face, and he admitted it took ten years off his appearance. I also told Noel not to hide from his homeless status but to embrace it instead -- even with prospective employers. But there was one caveat, tell them that your getting help from Deputy Donaldson and hand them my business card. It seems when the average person discovers that if even the police are willing to help a homeless person get off the street, they feel compelled to help them too. It's just another intriguing human phenomenon that makes the initiative work like no other.

And almost like clockwork, I get a surprise phone call from a very excited Noel who has called to tell me that on this labor day weekend he has not only secured a job but had already started work as well. This is the boost that he needed on the first leg of his recovery for him to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Noel's case is an example of how the homeless initiative is intercepting those in need at the outset of their homeless journey -- not many years later. What we have learned is the sooner we can intervene the easier it is to help them get off the streets.

Congratulations to Noel for acknowledging that he needed help and having the perseverance to keep his head above water.

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
District III
Office: (813) 247-0330