The streets of New York and other U.S. cities are home to thousands of people who suffer from crippling mental illnesses, and others who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. In January 2015, there were more than 80,000 chronically homeless people in the United States.
Such people are often exposed to trauma while cycling through jails, emergency rooms, and shelters. As anyone who has run into a homeless person having a psychotic episode can attest, their problems can seem insurmountable.
Not too long ago, Barry McCrea was one of those people. He slept on the New York City subway, often taking up two seats. He abused drugs and alcohol and spent time in jail. For seven years he lived on the streets.
Today, McCrea lives in an apartment with seven others, and deals with practical challenges like everyone else who shares a place: how to deal with a roommate who takes long showers, what to do if a roommate doesn’t clean up the kitchen, how to interact with a roommate he doesn’t particularly like.
McCrea was able to find stability and a home through a program now being replicated across the country. It targets frequent users of city services such as jails, emergency rooms, and shelters, and links them with permanent supportive housing, which is essentially an apartment building that has social workers available when needed. McCrea now thrives in permanent supportive housing, where he spends his time volunteering at a church, writing poetry, and whittling intricate figures of mothers and babies out of pieces of chalk. He’s had a few missteps, getting back into drugs or arguing with his roommates, but Brooklyn Community Housing and Services (BCHS), which provided his apartment, has stayed with him, he said.