The Housing First Approach

Planned Giving – By Rachel Calderon

Recently Health Care Center for the Homeless shared the story of Larry Jackson with us. This story represents the housing first approach our community has adopted in action. The housing first approach uses proven results from around the country to make a difference in the lives of chronically homeless individuals in the community to provide them with housing and support services.

Here’s Larry’s Story…

If you have ever lived or worked in Downtown Orlando for any length of time, you have probably seen Larry. At the corner of Colonial Drive and Westmoreland Drive you could find him at his self-appointed post, clad in white sheets and barefoot. As a well-known fixture in the area, some have even called him the “John the Baptist of Westmoreland.”

Larry’s journey of homelessness began 38 years ago at the age of 20, when the woman he refers to as his grandmother, passed away. Born in Miami, FL in 1958, he was abandoned shortly after birth by his mother. His father was not in the picture, so Larry was raised by his grandmother and sisters.

During his childhood he worked as a migrant farm worker. He recalls harvesting oranges, cucumbers, green peppers, and cabbage along the east coast. When he was not working, he and his grandmother could be found in church, where his love of scripture began. Even now, conversations with Larry involve discussions about spirituality and the Bible. He frequently talks about how segregation in the South, and the 1968 Supreme Court ruling on desegregation, profoundly impacted his life.

In the 10th grade Larry dropped out of school to work on the farm full time. He ran away at age 15 for a year, working on farms and in restaurants. For 30 years, between 1980 and 2010, he spent time in and out of jail, couch surfing, living in sheds, garages, and back rooms of bars and shops where he worked, and at one point, Larry spent over a year living and being treated in a state hospital.

Start Walking

One day in 2010, Larry “heard the Lord tell him to start walking.” He started walking north on Highway 27 from Lake Alfred, FL until he got to Clermont, FL where he made a right onto State Road 50 and continued walking until he arrived at the corner of Colonial and Westmoreland Drive. The filthy parking lot and dirty streets caught his attention, and he shares that “the Lord called me to clean it up!” Faithful to his call, Larry has spent the last several years “volunteering” his time clearing the parking lot and sorting through dumpsters in the area in exchange for scrap materials. He built a makeshift home from discarded wooden pallets, plywood, and cardboard, and relied on the kindness of “neighbors” at 7-Eleven and other businesses close by to support him.

Larry was well known to local police, business owners, and homeless advocates. They all attempted innumerable times over the years to help him engage in local services to get off the streets, but to no avail. Larry would invariably politely decline services, appearing somewhat fearful and distrustful of any services offered. In early 2015 the HOPE Team (Homeless Outreach Partnership Effort) of Health Care Center for the Homeless (HCCH) began working with Larry. Over the course of four months, they met with him often to build trust and rapport. Finally, Larry agreed to accompany the HOPE Team and some collaborating police officers to go see a potential apartment.

A Turning Point

By June 15, 2015, Larry had signed his lease and taken occupancy of a one-bedroom apartment in the Rosemont area of Orlando, his first home in 38 years. Larry’s transition has not been an easy one and has been filled with tense moments and even uncertainty at times. However, he now regularly meets with his case manager and peer support specialists. He also has a primary care provider and sees a behavior health provider that treats his chronic schizophrenia. Larry has most likely been suffering from many symptoms associated with this mental health disorder for a very long time – including paranoia, social avoidance, and delusions – all which prevented him from actively engaging in society.

In providing Larry with housing and health care, he has been able to obtain benefits, learn how to use his EBT card, manage his money, and grocery shop.

He is a kind and gentle man who is so appreciative of all the assistance he is given. Larry credits the Lord for his change in circumstances and says he will strive every day to do well by keeping his apartment and being a good neighbor. It has been an honor to walk this journey with him.

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