Mallyveen Teah, 53, has been homeless or couch surfing on and off for the past 25 years. Now, he walks from his job at a construction site in Arlington, Va., to his new home, a one-bedroom apartment.
“Something as simple as giving a person a set of keys to their own place makes a huge difference in terms of their outlook on life, the world,” he says.
Teah is part of a campaign launched by a nonprofit group in New York four years ago to permanently house 100,000 homeless people. This week, the group, Community Solutions, announced it had reached its goal, using a novel approach of bringing together federal, state, local, private and nonprofit groups to mount aggressive anti-homeless efforts in dozens of communities across the country.
“It feels like I’m a normal person again,” Teah says. “I haven’t felt this way for quite some time.”
Teah says he used to spend his nights drinking, sometimes using drugs, and wondering where he was going to sleep. Now, he worries about things like what he’ll make for dinner.
His place is small, but spotless. His shoes are lined up on a towel by the door. Teah says he has no intention of returning to his old way of life.
“By virtue of being sheltered and in a permanent place, a lot of the stress and acting out that people have to the environment goes away,” says Anita Friedman, deputy director of the Arlington County Department of Human Services.
She says the department joined what’s called the 100,000 Homes Campaign, despite some skepticism that it would help the county’s long-term homeless residents. Many had serious substance abuse or mental health problems.
“People thought, well, these individuals have been there forever,” she recalls. “You see them cycle in and out of the winter shelter every year. They come in, they go back out, they come in, they go back out. So what is really the possibility of getting them housed?”
Turns out the possibility was pretty good. The county, working with the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, got about 100 chronically homeless residents into permanent housing. Other communities in the campaign — like Phoenix, New Orleans and Salt Lake City — have also made huge dents in their homeless populations.