Jeff Peronel is a man of few words, but his quiet ways belie a strength and resilience that saw him through homelessness on the streets of Brooklyn. And if you speak to staff at The Christopher, a Breaking Ground supportive residence, his transformation since coming to live there is astonishing.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Jeff was a quiet child fascinated by art and drawing. After a falling out with his parents, he struck out on his own, holding down an apartment with a job at a Brooklyn textile factory. When his mental health took a turn, however, he lost his job, and then his apartment. For the next decade, he lived on the streets, surviving through the kindness of strangers, soup kitchens, and time spent in and out of shelters.
He would, in his own words, “self-admit” at Kings County Hospital, spending a day in the ER, or two or three days with a mental health crisis. Without a fixed address, doctors would not prescribe him regular medication, and he was discharged without a plan. He flew under the radar, and his tendency toward one-word answers meant that he didn’t get the help he needed.
Then one day, he asked directions from someone on the streets in Crown Heights, who patiently stopped to talk with him awhile. The person asked if he knew about Breaking Ground and recommended he see an outreach team. He made the first connection later that day.
While living on the street, Jeff had lost his ability to care for himself. The outreach teams helped him get connected with benefits and services, and found a placement for him at The Andrews, Breaking Ground's Safe Haven transitional residence on the Bowery. For nearly a year, Jeff worked with his case manager on relearning self-care, medication management, and other activities of daily living. When he signed a lease at The Christopher, caring for his own apartment was disorienting at first, and he maintained some of the habits he’d developed living on the street.
But with caring, persistent help from the Breaking Ground team and social service staff at the Center for Urban Community Services, Jeff began to open up. He started attending activities – his favorite is the cooking class where he learned to select and prepare in-season produce and made pizza from scratch for the first time. He’s made friends with his neighbors, with whom he participates in activities inside and outside the building. He loves going to the park to meditate, and to the rooftop garden to enjoy the green space, wildlife, and the sounds of the city. While he still suffers from depression, he’s fortunate to be able to see the psychiatrist at The Christopher regularly, and feels better now than any other time he can remember.
Jeff demonstrates the power of supportive housing – his experience of homelessness was not just about the lack of a place to live. With an apartment, and the support he needs to maintain his apartment, he’s thriving, and working toward an ever-brighter future.