My name is Anthony, I currently work at Housing Matters and this is my story about homelessness. One of the reasons I love working at Housing Matters is because I’ve been through the experience of homelessness and I can really empathize with the folks and it’s great to be able to help people.
My story starts back when I was a teenager because I was undiagnosed bipolar and it manifests itself big time as a child. I didn’t smoke pot. I didn’t drink. I didn’t do any kind of drugs and yet I was known as the ‘crazy’ one. I would go up, down, up, down and people would say, “what the heck is going on with you?”
As soon as I got into college the first thing I experienced was pot and what I loved about it was that it leveled out my moods. Most people have a little bit of ups and a little bit of downs, and a bipolar [person] has extreme ups [and] extreme downs.
Pot turned it into not feeling anything one way or the other. On top of that, I discovered alcohol and the combination of the two was not a good thing. But I did it because one would bring me into “balance”. The pot brought me into the middle and the alcohol let me go up and down around that and as that progressed it just wasn’t a good thing. It was really crazy. I didn’t think it was the pot and the alcohol.
I learned later that it was called self-medicating. When I was in my early thirties, I was finally diagnosed bipolar II and they put me on medications but I didn’t stop doing the pot and the alcohol. That’s when things got really nasty. During that time when I was, you know, drinking and smoking pot, I never did anything harder, thank God.
I went into the behavioral health unit four different times in a span of 10 or 12 years. One of the times I was so nuts after I had been drinking and smoking pot at a party and then everybody left. It was my home where it was happening. The next thing I know, it was like an out of body experience, me looking at myself, but I was running toward the ocean, 100 percent naked. I wanted to go for a swim. If I would have gotten to the ocean, I probably would have died. What saved me? I ran naked into a blackberry bramble.
The EMTs discovered me there and the next thing I know, I woke up in a padded room here in town.
All this time I was housed [and] holding jobs. Things got so bad and the people [I was living with] got so scared of my episodes, they took all my stuff, put it in storage and changed the locks on the doors. That’s how I became homeless.
That was my landlord. We lived in the same building and when that happened, he was like, “Nope, you’re out.” Even though everybody told me that’s illegal as hell.
Depressive episodes, the real bad ones, usually [happen] when stress from many factors hit at the same time. I spent weeks in bed, the only thing I did was get up to eat and go to the bathroom. That was it. That’s how bad depression [can] get.
A manic [episode] is what happened to me: lack of sleep and panic attacks and racing thoughts like you wouldn’t believe and impulsiveness. I mean, the most extreme example is when I ran into the Blackberry bush. The manic [episodes] are the scary ones because they’re beyond your control, and your thoughts do not stop. It’s super hard to sleep and sometimes you go a couple of days without sleep. I’ve become aware of them now, that as soon as I get anywhere near that, I’m talking to my psychologist or I’m getting friend support.
After I got locked out of my place, I went to a halfway house and stayed there for a month and it was relaxing. It was like a vacation because I didn’t have to worry about a damn thing. I got a roof over my head. I’ve got meals. I’m not worrying about money. I’m not worrying about people telling me what to do one way or the other. I got people who are trying to help me with my illness. So at that point, it was like a relief, but then the 30 days came to an end and they had to release me. But they had emergency beds at [Housing Matters].
I was probably two months homeless at this point. I mean, there’s no way I was getting back to where I was before the door was locked. At this point I didn’t even know where my stuff was. I had a friend who was a psychologist. Luckily she was through the church and she knew me. She wasn’t my regular doctor, but she helped me a lot and drove me around at that time. I got a job over at Sears, which was the first positive step.
I found out later that the psychiatrist at the halfway house was begging my family. “You need to take him, he can’t function, you need to take him.” They said no. It was a tough love kind of thing. My brother and my sister came down and were sitting by my side and listened to everything that was going on and they said “we’ll support him, we’ll do all of this stuff, but he’s got to step up. He’s got to show that he can do this” They did, they lent me money at times, it wasn’t like they completely abandoned me, but they weren’t going to take me home.
While staying on Housing Matters’ campus at the River Street Shelter I got a job within two weeks. After 30 days, they’re supposed to exit you. They rotate every 30 days. The person who was the head of that shelter pulled me aside and said, “I see you are doing everything that you’re supposed to do, you’re staying here for another 30 days. That happened again, the manager came around and said, “I’m going to give you another 30 days, but this is it. I can’t do any more than this.” So it was month three and one of my friends at my church said, “I’ve got this tiny little room and you can stay there.”
So I got to move there on the skin of my teeth again, I couldn’t believe it. I was able to stay there a year, and save money. After about a year, I got a 30 day notice. My friend’s brother was moving into town and was gonna use that room first until he found his own place.
I thought, “oh crap, I’m going to be homeless again.”
Again, the universe intervened. I was working at Sears and an old friend came in all dejected, and I’m like, “what’s going on?” He said, “I lost my tenant.” And I said, “you want a new tenant? I needed a roommate” and that’s when I met a long time employee at Housing Matters.
I was only homeless for a little while. I always had a roof over my head because something in me just kept going, as crazy as I could be. That’s what sent me into homelessness. Now I’m 10 years clean and sober and I’ve been fine. I’m vigilant because episodes, which can still happen, could send me back to homelessness. There’s no doubt about it.
Fortunately, the programs worked for me. But I was so close to being on the street. Each time I was terrified that I would end up on the street. It never happened, it was serendipity.
My housemate at the time recommended I come work at Housing Matters. I had excitement and trepidation at the same time. Excitement to go there and be able to work with people and trepidation because I had no idea what that greater population of unhoused people were going to be like. But I guess I’m suited for it because I’ve been here four years working on the front lines.
I connect people with basic stuff, like a toothbrush and they are so happy to get that. It makes you feel good because you can see how grateful people are in the moment and it makes you realize how blessed you are. We don’t even think about something as basic as a toothbrush to be grateful for.
Since I’ve been working here for a while, I try to get to know people. That’s the best way for me to help people. It’s important that they see an example of someone who went through it.
This story was collected in November 2023 by Andrea Feltz, Community Conversations Program Manager