“I've never had my own apartment before,” said John, 49, who moved into his Bayonne one-bedroom in November 2014. “I'm still in shock. This is real independence.”
Even as a youngster, John said he didn't fit in. He left school after the sixth grade and looks back now at what were early signs of depression and anxiety that have been his companions throughout his life. His Dad left the family when he was five and at 19, he was on his own – and homeless. He spent the next four years on the streets of New York.
“I lived in a cardboard box under a street ramp and ate from dumpsters,” he recalled. “I just spend every moment trying to figure out where I could wash up or if I'd be able to find something to eat.” The worst experience was one night when a group of teens tried to set him on fire. “That haunts me still,” he said quietly.
At a Lutheran church soup kitchen John met a priest who helped him get a job with housing at a year-round camp in the Catskills. John enjoyed the camp's atmosphere, his work as a cook and the friendship of his coworkers. He held the job from 1989-2012, when a change in management brought in a new team and he was dismissed. Unable to find another job in the area, he moved back to the New York/New Jersey area and once again found himself homeless.
Moving through a web of social services, he heard about United Way's Collaborative Solutions Program, which provides housing and supportive services for the chronically homeless.
“The people at United Way are very supportive,” he said. “They make me feel like somebody and they've given me a new life. I'm very thankful for this organization.”