Danny has been living outside for at least seven years. He is a fixture on the corner of Washington & Central, in Newark, in front of St. Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral with his walker. Sometimes he wakes up at University Hospital, having collapsed on the street. We see Danny at least twice a day, if we’re working in Newark, as we walk past his corner on the way to and from the parking lot, as do many folks, as it turns out.
During the initial stand-up of the Holiday Inn, Danny became my personal, number one target. There have so far been many people whose stories have touched us and for whom we’ve gone well out of our way, but Danny is a “white whale” who never agrees to “go inside”. So every day, at least twice, I would ask him how he’s doing and offer him a hotel room. This is the first time we’ve had that chance. He’s not going inside at a congregant shelter. He is not going to 224. And for the first couple of weeks, he’s not going inside, despite having his own hotel room, three meals a day, and case management services.
On April 9th, it was his birthday and we bought him a couple of double cheeseburgers from Burger King. He said he was ready to come inside, but not tonight. Tomorrow.
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow came and sometimes he would claim that he was outside at Project Connect at 8:00am, as we had repeatedly asked him to do – tomorrow – and that no one answered. Sometimes he seemed rather angry when he mounted this defense. So we kept trying.
One Friday, I think it was May 1st, Danny stopped me as I was driving by, and on a call. As I pulled to the curb and rolled down my window, prepared to re-engage in the call as quickly as I could, he looked at me tearfully and began to tell me that he really wants to go to the hotel, but he’s afraid of the withdrawal. He told me that he had broken his back and that his hips were messed up. He told me that he hadn’t laid down flat in years and that he couldn’t sit in a car. He even sleeps, hunched forward, in that ubiquitous walker. He panhandles for money so that he can get his oxy and his fentanyl, but he’s no addict…it’s just the pain. Constant, unbearable pain. But for the drugs.
The next morning, we connected Danny with Dr. Erin Zerbo, a Psychiatrist who specializes in MAT (Medication Assisted Therapy) and who could prescribe saboxone which would help with both his pain and his dependence. We connected him via video and got him all set up and in a City of Newark Shuttle, on loan to us (with driver!), en route to the Holiday Inn. During intake, some negative comments were made about the condition of his legs and he was triggered. He wanted to leave. Now.
Another week or so goes by and Danny ends up at University Hospital. They’ve had a few days to work with him, and last Friday, 5/15, on call coordinating his care and the plan to transfer him to Holiday Inn, the attending agrees that he can stay through the weekend, giving the MAT team more time to work on dosage so he could successfully transition to Holiday Inn on Monday. On Sunday, he checked himself out AMA (against medical advice).
On May 20th Danny came to Project Connect. He was ready. He was ready to go inside. But the Daily Room Availability at the hotel: Women – 14, Men – 0. True story. Fortunately the team at Salvation Army was able to shift things around and prepare a handicapped accessible room for Danny. He went inside and is still there today, doing well.
More than 530 people experiencing homelessness in Newark have gone inside since we began this effort. We can all be proud of this team and the hundreds of stories like Danny’s that are headed in the right direction.
Thank you for reading Danny’s story and for the continued support.