Tampa’s daily summer downpour still puddled the lush courtyard. Nothing dampened the party spirit for Edwin, Chuck and their Cypress Landing neighbors. Everyone was gearing up for a barbecue sponsored by Steps Forward Tampa, the nonprofit that built this Housing First community. Before moving into Cypress Landing, many had spent years sleeping on benches, behind dumpsters and storage sheds.
“I kept getting kicked out of the storage units I found,” Edwin said. “There’s a hierarchy on the streets and I hadn’t been around here long enough.” A friend who bought a tent invited Edwin to bunk with him in the woods. No bathroom. No shower. Edwin’s face started to peel and massive infected sores grew on his neck.
“One day, Anne here rescued me. She really did! She got me to a doctor who said those sores were MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus areus). Then they found and treated my prostate cancer. They are beautiful people—no questions asked,” he said.
Anne, a therapist with Gracepoint’s housing first team, said the real effort has been Edwin’s. “He’s working on his health and wellness and building his trust in us,” she said. That is not easy after years as a homeless man being kicked out of place after place—even when he put his bedroll under a wooden deck.
“I was slipping through the cracks. Anne found me and asked if I was interested in opening a new door. I kind of growled OK! OK!. Now I have a positive attitude that I share with other people.” Edwin added.
Chuck went to high school in New York and moved to Florida in 2001. He got good at finding a place for a couple of months at a time before he was chased away.
“Anyplace dry,” he said. “Still no electric, no bathroom.”
Not anymore. Now he wakes up, cooks for himself, cleans his one-bedroom apartment and takes nice long walks for exercise or visits with his neighbors.
Chuck is still a New York hockey fan. Steps Forward committee member Tod Lieweke, CEO of the Tampa Bay Lightning, still promised him tickets for a Lightning game. “It probably won’t be for the Islanders, though!” he joked.
“Being invited to live here is the best thing that ever happened to me,” Edwin said. “The medical and mental health care made a difference. You know, it was the birthday card that really elevated me!” He slapped the table with one hand, tears in his eyes as he and Annie got up to get him some barbecue leftovers for later.