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Monday, August 16, 2021

After Years of Struggle, a Place to Rest

Maria never imagined that she’d lose her job and her apartment. Having worked since she was sixteen, she found herself in a variety of roles, including as a security guard. But when she began to develop severe arthritis, she found that she could no longer stand for more than 30 minutes at a time.

And then, problems with her physical health began to affect her mental health. Before she knew what had happened, she lost her job and her apartment and found herself in shelter and on public assistance. The lack of privacy and stress of living in a shelter only made her arthritis worse, and she found it difficult to get enough sleep. Eventually, she found a shared apartment, but her trials continued. While dealing with a succession of difficult roommates, she watched the building decay around her for five years to the point that it was permanently closed by the department of buildings, and Maria found herself homeless again.

It was then that she began to see light at the end of the tunnel. When Breaking Ground opened Webster Residence in 2018 in the Tremont section of the Bronx, Maria was among the first tenants to move in. Every day since she continues to make progress. Working closely with her case manager from the onsite social service provider, Center for Urban Community Services, and considering her history of employment, Maria was finally able to complete her application for disability. This has resulted in a degree of financial stability that she had not known for many years.

Prior to COVID, Maria participated in every variety of building event that Webster's tenant services team organized. She showed up early to help set up, brew coffee, and pour cups for her neighbors. She also began to be a kind of living newsletter for the building, knocking on her neighbors' doors to check on them and ensure they knew which events were coming up, letting each resident know how wonderful it would be to see them there.

When Breaking Ground partnered with Capital One on a program that aims to bridge the digital divide, Maria was the first to sign up to receive a device (Chromebook) and subsidized internet service. Prior to the pandemic, she eagerly attended digital literacy classes and took advantage of every opportunity to learn new skills.

Maria is also intent on creating a safe, healthy, and peaceful space for all tenants of the building. Drawing on her background in security, she learned all of Webster Residence’s policies and procedures and helps ensure that they are followed, all from a viewpoint of mutual respect. She was proud to be among the first tenants to take the COVID-19 vaccine when an onsite pop-up vaccination clinic was arranged at Webster Residence.

Above all, Maria is grateful to be in a safe space, have an apartment of her own, and have the room and support to grow. She feels better today than she has in many years thanks to supportive housing.

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