You’ve Got a Friend

When James lost his job, he quickly became homeless. He had lived paycheck to paycheck, and his family could not help him. One brother was in jail, another “up to no good” as James explains it, and the third barely getting by as a schoolteacher. Solitary and quiet by nature, James had never had close friends. “When I go anywhere, I go by myself,” said James.

So, alone, James went to the streets.

He had been out there for a few months when he decided he had had enough.

People don’t know how hard it is, you don’t know when the next meal is coming.

James, former client, and Clare Lassiter, PPCS Occupational Therapist

So, despite his fears about living in a group setting, he decided to give shelter life a try.

James arrived at Biddle House during the pandemic. He received three meals a day, a bed at night, and access to shower and laundry facilities. Life was safer, predictable. Months turned into more than a year, and James was feeling stuck. He was unable to find work and save money.

In August 2022, PPCS took over the operations of the shelter. A new staff member named Clare Lassiter arrived. She had just completed her doctorate in Occupational Therapy. One of the shelter monitors, Schandice Lawshe, was impressed with Clare’s positive energy. Schandice had known James for some time and suggested to him that he give Clare a chance to help him get unstuck. “Nobody had helped me after all this time, so I did not want to get my hopes up,” said James.

The two started getting acquainted with short chats.

He had to choose me. I had to constantly prove to him that I was worthy of his trust.

“We got into a working relationship with simple goals like going for a 20-minute walk together because that would help reduce his blood pressure. I knew we were friends when he started joking with me and coming to find me to talk.”

James was born and raised in St. Louis, with a strong mother. He was diagnosed with developmental and mental disabilities at a young age. As a young adult, he sustained housing by combining his disability checks with his modest pay from working as a store clerk. He unloaded orders, stocked shelves and placed orders. James is proud of the decade of this life he spent working in this role.

James told Clare that his two main goals were to get back to work and find a place of his own. So, the two friends set out to tackle all the steps needed to reach James’ goals. It took three months working together to acquire and fill out the necessary documents to have James become eligible for employment through Vocational Rehabilitation services. James had so many appointments and papers to fill out, but Clare helped him stay on task. “Clare reminds me of my mom, strict!” said James.

Through his own hard work with Clare and his caseworker at MERS/Goodwill, James has found steady employment at 4/M Building Solutions. He now works Monday through Friday, four hours each day. He vacuums eight floors of carpeting daily.

As James worked, he saved money. Clare and James kept working on his budgeting skills. They knew that sticking to a budget and maintaining a healthy blood pressure were two daily living skills that would be required for James to maintain his independence once he moved out of the shelter.

James set a goal to be out of the shelter by his birthday on June 15. He achieved his goal. Exactly a month before his birthday, on May 15, he moved to Fr. Dempsey’s Transitional Housing, a stone’s throw from the Fox Theatre. He has his own room with a door he can lock. He can walk or take a bus to anywhere he wants or needs to go.

I treated myself to a T-bone steak at Best Steak House last week. It was good. This week I took myself to go see the Transformers movie.

Living in a shelter is not an easy life. So being at Fr. Dempsey’s is a step up, and he is getting the experience of paying his bills and cleaning his space. The goal for James is permanent subsidized housing. I have every confidence in him that he will be able to sustain that.

James knows that having a good social safety net and healthy, enjoyable leisure time activities are important for his long-term stability. James is still working on building those relationships and habits. “I talk to my brother the schoolteacher every week now,” said James. James is pursuing volunteering at Stray Rescue where he hopes to help by walking the dogs. “I like being around dogs more than people,” said James. “I have canine friends.”

Clare is immensely proud of the progress James has made. “James only has two goals left that we are still working on to have him completely independent, secure, and happy. We are still working on healthy leisure time activities and routines as well as securing permanent affordable housing. James won’t need supportive services like occupational therapy or case management when he moves to his permanent home. He is doing great. I know he will be successful in his future apartment.”

And until then, Clare will be at his side. Like a good friend is.