Matthew grew up a tough kid in New York City. He had a falling out with his parents and a judge granted him emancipation when he was 16. With no parental support, Matthew raised himself and did the best he could. He lived in the basement of a pizza parlor, on the streets, in abandoned cars.
As an adult, Matthew’s life continued on a difficult path. He always worked very physical jobs like roofing, cutting down trees, replacing floors, home construction. That life took a toll on his body – he fractured his spine, had bone spurs in his neck, arthritic feet, and bad knees. He had five surgeries in three years and began to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to deal with the pain. That led to jail time and more homelessness.
When you talk to Matthew, who is now 59, he makes no excuses for his life. But, he also recognizes that when you’re homeless, you have no civil rights. He’s been arrested over and over again for nuisance crimes like carrying an open container; once the container was in his backpack and he still got arrested.
Matthew exclaimed, “When you’re arrested, you accumulate court fees which you can’t pay, and so you go back to jail. When you’re older and homeless and don’t have a car, no one will hire you, so you can’t pay off your debts. Then you become more of an alcoholic, more of a criminal. The system is geared to keep you homeless.”
Matthew finally accessed housing when he came to AHOPE. “Asking for help was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do as a man. I was always self-sufficient. But I knew if I stayed on the streets any longer, I’d be a dead man.”
Matthew’s case manager worked hard to find him the right living situation and once he moved into a home, his life turned around.
Matthew explained, “Since I’ve been housed, I’ve had no problem with the law and all I’ve done is try to improve my life. I got my health taken care of, no more opioids, and I was able to get off most of the other meds. They had me on seven different medications – antidepressants, anti-anxieties. Now, when I’m down I can assess mental health services. I’m becoming more holistic, eating healthier and exercising, doing yoga. Getting people housed, is the best thing you can do for them!”
Having a home has brought out Matthew’s creative side. He finds treasures in thrift stores and junk shops and turns them into works of art.
“Other people buy art; I turn old things into masterpieces.”