Born and raised in St. Louis, Neil has lived in San Francisco for 40 years. He was living in Noe Valley with his wife of ten years when she was diagnosed with early-onset dementia and Neal became her full-time caregiver. It was hard: he couldn’t leave her alone for more than a few moments at a time, and over the next few years, she deteriorated and no longer knew who he was. It was a heartbreaking decline, and as she worsened her family made the difficult decision to bring her home to Texas and vacate their San Francisco residence. Because their shared residence was in his wife’s name, Neal was forced to leave his home and found himself experiencing homelessness, navigating the San Francisco shelter system alone.
Looking for a path forward
For two years, Neal moved in and out of shelters, in crowded spaces, living without privacy or stability alongside hundreds of other people trying to survive without a permanent place to live. In April 2014, his counselor connected him to a spot that had opened up at the Essex – one of HomeRise’s supportive housing locations in the Tenderloin.
Coming to the Essex was “a little spot of heaven,” Neal shares. Over the next four years of living at the Essex, Neal worked with our Resident Services Counselors to regain stability in his life, recover from two years of shelter life, and work towards his ultimate goal: getting a place of his own.
Everyone’s journey and goals are different. For Neal, Essex was a transition back to independence, and as much as he immersed himself in his new community – befriending fellow residents and getting close with staff – he never lost sight of that goal.
The future looks bright
In fall of 2018, Neal was approved for his own one-bedroom apartment on Geary Street. “Now my whole life is going to start getting a whole lot better,” Neal proudly shares. “It’s good here now, but there’s always more room for opportunity and growth.”
Neal is excited to have a new apartment with a tub, a gas stove and oven, enabling him to return to his hobbies of cooking and baking (especially ham, fried chicken, and cookies). He even has a backyard and a garage. He is looking into going back to school at San Francisco City College – which, thanks to HomeRise’s advocacy victory in 2017, Neal can attend for free. Neal says he feels “thrilled” about his new home and this opportunity.
What will Neal miss about his time at the Essex? “In a way I will miss everything,” Neal shares. “This was my home for four years. That’s why I say when I move, I am going to still come back here to visit; because the four years I’ve been here – going on five – I’ve made a lot of friends in this building, even with the counselors. I can’t just walk from that part of my life and not see them anymore. They have done so much for me.”
Neal is one of 1,900 people each year living in HomeRise’s supportive locations who are getting the opportunity to heal, grow and thrive. With his moving on, there is an open space for someone else to start their journey. “Always have patience and hope like I did,” Neal says. “Believe things will work out for you, and you can make it happen.”