“Well, you be careful young man.” That was the advice given to Michael on the morning of July 16 as he exited a homeless camp on the outskirts of East St. Louis from another camp resident.
That morning marked a major milestone for Michael. He was on his way to an apartment with Places for People ACT-1 Team Leader Don Shipp, moving into permanent housing for the first time since he arrived in St. Louis in October 2013. Most nights for the past nine months, Michael slept in a clearing at the camp on a tractor-trailer door. He did not have a tent, so he protected himself from the elements with a tarp and blankets. “I just covered up and put on a bunch of clothes. Layers and and layers. There were some nights when it was down in the teens, I had to go to the overflow shelter.”
The Places for People outreach team first encountered Michael in the fall of 2013 at a St. Louis hospital. “I was very reluctant to come to Places for People, I didn’t think it would work,” Michael recalls.
However, he did give Places for People a chance, and was enrolled in services. He made the transition from the Outreach Team to the ACT-1 Team. The ACT-1 Team is one of four Assertive Community Treatment teams at Places for People and only 10 in Missouri. Places for People’s ACT team provide the highest level of mental health care.
Michael, who is in his mid-50s, came to St. Louis from his hometown of Sikeston. Previously, he had traveled between the two cities for medical treatments. But as Shipp explained, he had to move to St. Louis when Medicaid stopped covering his transportation expenses.
With the help of staff from Places for People, Michael was linked to community resources, including a MetroLink ID that allowed him to go to downtown St. Louis for food, and also travel to Places for People’s Recovery Center Campus for appointments.
Securing safe, stable housing is an important part of the recovery process for all people served by Places for People. The need to find housing for Michael was imperative.
“Unfortunately, treatments leave him somewhat depleted of energy and so most physicians don’t want to perform it because he lives on the street and feel like that’s more dangerous and vulnerable for him. But if he had housing and a safe place, they would be more likely to give him that medical treatment that he needs.”
The ACT-1 Team worked with Michael on this housing goal, but could not push him into it until he was ready.
An opportunity arose in mid-July thanks to DePaul USA, which had an opening in its “Project More” program. They had an apartment available and contacted Michael’s team. When the team approached him with the opportunity, he said he thought it was time.
He visited the apartment on Tuesday with Shipp, and had his bags packed and ready for moving day on Wednesday morning. Michael kept his tarp and blankets at the camp, just in case he returned.
With his belongings loaded up in the trunk of Shipp’s car, Michael rode with Shipp to a South St. Louis apartment building, his new home. In the parking lot they met Joe Piskulic, a case worker with DePaul USA. Joe gave Michael a tour of the apartment, then spent the rest of the morning with him to start the process of getting utilities transferred to his name.
DePaul USA will coordinate Michael’s housing, while Places for People continues to work with him on his mental health needs. The ACT-1 Team will continue to work with him on his recovery goals. With housing in place, a new goal will be to explore employment, working with the team’s Vocational Specialist.
Once reluctant to start services at Places for People, Michael now praises the organization. He said, “I have the best team, I have the best support system.”
The day of the move was a day to remember for Michael, and also for Shipp, who has worked for Places for People since 1999.
Having the opportunity to help Michael and countless others, renews Shipp’s passion for his job. “Without these times, it would be hard to do the work. This day, today, this morning makes it well worth it.”
Joe Piskulic of DePaul USA, Michael, and Don Shipp of Places for People in Michael’s apartment