David’s Journey – Housing and Hope

By May 31, 2024No Comments

The Multnomah County Rental Assistance Program (MRAP) is a supportive housing service through New Narrative which works with holders of Regional Long-Term Rent Assistance (RLRA) vouchers. This program assists individuals to prepare for, acquire, and retain housing in scattered site locations, with rental assistance provided by Home Forward. 

New Narrative first received a referral for David from TIP Banfield, a Covid Shelter Motel, in early 2023. While David was renting a room at the motel, he noticed a New Narrative team would come by the hotel to visit with people living there. He was curious about what NN was doing and was able to schedule a visit. After receiving David’s referral, MRAP Program Manager Danielle Stirnaman scheduled a Meet and Greet to review the program and see if David was interested in being part of the MRAP program.

Danielle remembers, “David came to the Meet and Greet with such a powerful life story the entire team gravitated towards the conference room to hear him share.” She continues, “I remember David shared that his friend encouraged him to attend and just share his truth. David came into that meeting with no expectation of being a part of the program but walked out that day with a team dedicated to walk with him to find not just a house but a home.” 

With guidance from the MRAP Team, he was able to secure an apartment – his first apartment in his own name in his 54 years of life.

Working with New Narrative has reminded him of his ownership of the process of navigating his life. “New Narrative didn’t find this apartment, I did,” he says, proudly. “When I got approved for this apartment, it changed everything. I had a starting point. I could focus.” 

David has now been in housing for eight months. When he first moved in, he tried to take care of all his to-do list within the week. Realizing that it wasn’t possible within that time frame, he’s learned patience and has more of an understanding of the amount of time it takes to learn new habits and achieve certain goals. “I have had to learn how to pay bills, check my mail, get along with other neighbors in my complex,” he says. 

Some parts of life are still a work in progress. 

“I’m still learning how to shop for food, how to cook for myself,” he admits. One development? He went out and adopted a cat, “Nino”. He felt like taking care of his cat gave him the sense of responsibility and sense of ownership he needed. It also gave him an obligation to keep coming back to his apartment.

In David’s view, it wasn’t an easy adjustment once he had his own place. “When I first moved into my apartment, I would run out of there every chance I would get. I would sit on a bench facing Trader Joe’s, smoke, and decompress. It was my mental health time.” It took some time to adjust to the newer apartment style; the brand-new stove was especially intimidating to navigate, especially since he is still new to cooking.  

Before and After Housing 

“I was locked up at 14,” he says. His incarceration happened before cell phones or the internet, and there was always someone else available to look after his basic needs. His life was a whirlwind after he was released. “Everything I did, I never slowed down long enough to learn everyday skills. I got my GED, but my poorest subject was math,” he remembers. Now he’s calculating where to get the most for his money when grocery shopping. “I found out a gallon of almond milk, a dozen eggs, and a loaf of bread can last me a month, he notes. He mentions how careful he tries to be when figuring out food costs. He tries to stay away from ultra-processed foods but also faces the issue of cooking for one person. “A few carrot sticks and I’m good. With a whole sack of carrots, they’ll go bad, and some of us can’t afford to waste food,” he says.  

With the help of a friend, he learned how to set up Wi-Fi through his cell phone last week. His next challenge? Learning the internet, especially YouTube, where he’s found a few cooking tutorials he uses. “I’m finally paying attention to myself. I’m learning about what I like, and that I like what I like.” He smiles. He’s content with the peace and quiet of sitting in his place with his cat and doesn’t feel the need to watch TV or seek out entertainment. He recently discovered he loves apple pie with vanilla ice cream and is quick to recommend a local pie shop he describes as “the real deal”. 

Mental Health: Goals and Next Steps

David admits that he’s still finding his mental footing from the whirlwind of securing housing and picking up new basic living skills. He’s focusing on developing healthy habits: eating at least two times a day, drinking plenty of water, and walking when he doesn’t have to catch the bus. He’s excited about a program through Portland Community College he’s applying for, especially the course covering computers. One of his longer-term goals is to get certified as a drug counselor because he wants to help people like him, who have been in limbo with housing and life skills and who may not know what to do next once they are accepted into housing. “I want to take advantage of this PCC program within the next few years. I’ve been given this time to work on myself,” he says.

One of the parts of himself that he’s most proud of? “I participate,” he says. “Sometimes all you have to do is participate in life. If you don’t participate, then nothing gets done. Nothing happens,” he nods. He feels the responsibility of being purposeful with his time and decisions as he moves through the MRAP program. “One thing that Danielle [from the MRAP Program at New Narrative] and staff make available – a phone call. That is the one thing that sticks out the most,” he says. “If you talk direct, you get a direct response [from the team].” He was especially moved that every step of the way, if Danielle or a team member said they were going to do something, they did it. Additionally, the program provided some essentials, such as furniture. “New Narrative got me a couch so I could rest and relax in my place,” he adds. 

David is an avid reader, owning more than 100 books which live in his apartment. His eyes light up when he talks about his favorites, including The Silent Patient. He’s looking forward to reading a handful of yet-to-be-read books on his shelf but has difficulty sitting down to read right now. One of his friends suggested that he was having trouble reading because he was working hard at living in the present instead of trying to escape his life; that idea resonated with him. “I have a long way to go, but I have the time to focus on myself,” he repeats. Smiling, he says, “Slowly but surely, I’ve been learning how to live on my own.” 

A Note on Working with Participants New to Housing

David has an important reminder for providers and anyone interested in supporting someone’s mental health journey: housing is just one step. He reiterates the basic living skills he’s had to learn and notes that he’s known people who are less willing to navigate a complex system full of unknowns. He emphasizes that “Just because someone says they understand something, doesn’t mean they do,” and that participants in housing programs may be less willing to proactively reach out for help when they can’t figure something out. It’s up to providers to check in and confirm that someone understands what they need to do, and even to anticipate some of those needs ahead of time. Housing plays a critical role in mental health recovery, but handing off the keys to an apartment is only the beginning.

New Narrative provides a wide spectrum of housing and supportive services to walk alongside participants on their mental health journey. If you would like to join in changing the narrative for housing and mental health in Greater Portland, please consider making a donation for mental health today.