Editor’s Note: This is the second of a series of articles in which the Grapevine will follow an individual as he makes his way through the “system’ and attempts to put his life together. We met up with Brian Johnson during his first week on the streets. In Issue 22, we talk to Johnson about his epilepsy and his homelessness. Now after seven months on the streets, we catch up with Johnson who is staying at the Salvation Army PASS program shelter.
Johnson was staying at Project Heat, and trying to get his medicine. He was looking for a part time job, and trying to help others out of their situation.
Brian Johnson hooked up with a friend who said that he would set him up in an apartment. He gave the money for the deposit to the friend, and went to look at the place only to find that the placed did not exist. He lost his money, and learned that even among people in similar circumstances there is no loyalty.
“A friend of mine set me up with an apartment and that didn’t work out. I guess he needed me for the money, and he sent me to the wrong place. I got ripped off. It made me feel, well, I couldn’t believe he would do that. I was drinking at the time. I didn’t want to set up no grounds for myself, until the members of the church that I do attend, they see the problems that I do have and try to help me with my problems,” Johnson said.
“Now, I am at the PASS program. They have helped me overcome my weakness for alcohol. Plus it has helped me to find an apartment where I can go in,” Johnson explained. “At the moment, I am trying to get into Famicos (supportive housing on 18th and Superior) but all I need is my birth certificate. PASS is helping me get my birth certificate.”
“The way I got into the PASS program was the church that I do attend…they knew someone at the PASS program, Johnson said. The question of alcohol did not come up in the previous interview.” Johnson said that at first he denied his alcohol problem. “After attending the meetings and hearing the other client talk about their problems, well, some of their problems, I identified with them because I have been through it. So I just realize that I did have a problem. I do have a problem with alcohol.”
Brian Johnson has epilepsy, and related his problems with having trouble getting medication. With the help of the Epilepsy Foundation, Johnson was able to stabilize his medication. He has only been able to afford the off brand version of medicine. He said the generic medicine makes him feel different in the morning. He feels a lot better using the name brand medicine.
“I did have one problem. One time that I was ill, and I couldn’t make it out to my doctor (at the Clements Center).” He was in St. Vincent Hospital, and was not able to see his regular doctor. They were going to make him pay full price for the medicine because the prescription was written by a different doctor.
Johnson said that the Epilepsy Foundation helps a person, “overcome the problems of their disability and stuff. They can help find a job. They do not provide medicine. They can help with finding a place to get medicine. They can help build skills. Help with filling out and application for a job, and overcoming the condition of epilepsy.”
The PASS program is radically different from Project Heat. According to Johnson, “You have a bed and not a place on the floor. You have clean sheets and blankets that they provide you with, they have personal hygiene items and showers. You can take as many showers as you like. You must attend the AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings whenever they are scheduled. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is a good transition into a permanent place especially if you are trying to ovecome your problems and you want to get back in the world.”
“PASS can provide help getting to a job. They try to get people to turn their life around. There are steps that the guys have to take if they want help. Conquering their alcohol addiction and with help finding a job [are examples of areas PASS can help.]”
He said that some guys come back for counseling services. He also said that he likes the program. “When I do my volunteer work at Cornerstone Connection (20 hours a month for food stamps), I tell the guys out there that if you don’t want to be staying on the street, you know …and if you have a drug and alcohol problem, you should come (to PASS).”
Johnson, reflecting on the future, said, “The next step is getting in a Famicos apartment. I also want to get a part time job. I have to go to CMHA to let them know that I am moving in. and they want me to have a birth certificate…I didn’t have it. My first step is to conquer the alcohol problem.”
Finally, Johnson said, “There are guys out there that need help…And there are places that you can go to get this help…I know there are people (in the shelters) that are homeless [who] want to get out of the situation they are in.. There are places that can help them.
Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine October1997-Nov. 1997 Issue 23