Tenants of the Year
Violence, addiction, and chronic homelessness can be insurmountable barriers to survival. Fifty-two year old Randy Holloman experienced the traumatic loss and death of family members as a young child. In attempts to cope, bouts of criminal activity and chemical dependency were only exacerbated when his sister sold the house she lived in and Randy became homeless. Each night became a battle to find a place to sleep. But fear of judgment, as well as barriers to mental health support, made Randy wary of trusting people. By the time he arrived at Buffalo’s Evergreen Health Services, six years later, his physical and mental health had deteriorated.
Evergreen offered him help addressing his medical challenges and chemical dependency and enrolled him in their scattered-site program. But it fell to Randy to find a landlord willing to rent to him: an often discouraging process. He eventually found landlords – Mr. and Mrs. Morales -- who cautiously took a chance, and they are completely delighted they did.
“We never asked him to do anything around the house,” Randy’s landlords wrote in a letter supporting his nomination, but Randy took it upon himself to help out. A lot. Not only did he take out the trash and cut the grass since the Moraleses were both struggling with injuries, he shoveled snow during what was commonly referred to as Snowpocalypse. And not just for the Moraleses but for neighbors up and down the block. “And this Christmas,” the letter continued, “he gave our two children Christmas presents from his heart. Needless to say that was a moment that got our hearts as well.”
Since becoming housed and getting healthy, Randy has reconnected with his own family too. Once seen as a burden, he says now his children actually turn to him for support. The Moraleses are touched by what they see as his “loving family.”
Randy is also an inspiration to peers, generously sharing his story, his humor and his support with those struggling with the same issues he faced. He is also enrolled in a vocational school learning how to work on computers. Again, the Moraleses : “He is a role model for young men in the community.”
When he first moved into his apartment, it took Randy several weeks before he realized that it was not a dream. He used to wake up at night and think he was back on the streets. Although Randy credits the people in his life with his stabilization, those who know him wholeheartedly affirm that nobody has put more work into his success than Randy. The Moraleses again: “To us, he will always be Tenant of the Year.”
The Network agrees and is pleased to honor Randy Holloman’s resilience and growth as a 2015 Outstanding Tenant of the Year.
Alexander Griffin was homeless for 33 years. A U.S. Army medal-holding veteran, Mr. Griffin kept largely to himself on the street. People recognized him for his signature headphones and guarded demeanor.
Those 33 years of experience made him skeptical of outreach workers, and shame kept him from making contact with his family.
Mr. Griffin referred to James, the Goddard Riverside outreach worker who finally brought him in as Teddy Roosevelt, known for speaking softly and carrying a big stick, because although quiet he “got things done.” James had organized a memorial service for a homeless friend of Mr. Griffin’s who had passed, and Mr. Griffin saw he could be trusted. Mr. Griffin agreed to go to the Volunteers of America’s Safe Haven Program, where, for the next year, he actively addressed long-neglected health issues at the Bronx Veterans Administration Hospital. He moved into supportive housing at Kenmore Hall in August 2014, but continues to utilize the Bronx VA services due to the community and support he has built for himself there.
Since moving into supportive housing, Mr. Griffin smiles more, exudes confidence and warmth, and is fully engaged with his community. He visits his old street location to instill hope in others. At Kenmore Hall he actively engages with his neighbors and is the life-force behind weekly veterans’ meetings onsite.
Still, the adjustment from living on the street to having an apartment of one’s own is challenging. Not long after moving in to the Kenmore, Mr. Griffin went missing and staff feared he had returned to the streets. He had instead gone to search for his family in Virginia. Mr. Griffin had not had contact with his family since 1996, having hidden his life on the street. It had been almost twenty years since Mr. Griffin had seen his father and, after knocking on countless doors, he finally found him. Speechless, they stared at one another for long moments, before falling into each other’s arms and dissolving into tears. Having a home of his own, his name on a lease, restored a sense of self-confidence that Mr. Griffin had not felt in decades. He felt worthy of his family’s love and knew that he had love to give back. Mr.Griffin has continued to maintain contact with his family and has plans to show them his new home, proudly displaying his old military photo and family pictures.
Mr. Griffin’s enthusiasm to share his journey with others is palpable. He is patient and kind, and those around him see the happiness that has grown in him since obtaining stable housing and opening himself up to others. Humble, motivated, spirited, he is quiet and gets things done.
The Network is proud to honor Mr. Alexander Griffin as an Outstanding Tenant of the Year.
The foster care system can be a rough journey for young people. For 23-year-old James Milan, this journey started at the ripe age of 3. James witnessed earth-shattering violence as a young person, resulting in the loss of his parents. As James grew older, his struggles with violence and run-ins with the law were clear indicators of an arduous upbringing.
But that is not all there was to James’ identity. As a young person, James found refuge in poetry, and wrote a play for his foster care agency. James channeled emotion and hope through his creative outlets, which he has carried into his work today.
In 2011, James aged out of foster care and became a resident in Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter’s Louis Nine House. This transition was a challenge, as he was now faced with the daunting task of making his own life decisions. During this time, it was rare not to see an altercation at the residence where James was not involved. He expressed little concern for his future and appeared angry most of the time.
Then there was a wake-up call: James became a father to two children. He soon realized that his first-hand experience with domestic violence was negatively impacting his own relationships, and he looked to the staff at Louis Nine House for support. James enrolled in anger management programs, leading to an internship with the Claremont Young Father’s Program and gainful employment as a Youth Counselor. This is where James found his voice, an outlet, and the beginning of some healing.
Today, you might find James in a group giving motivational speeches. You also might find him spending time with his children, having become an active participant in their lives. James also works with ACS to speak with other young people about how to transition from foster care with support and love. He will be done with his GED program this month, after which he intends to apply to colleges. In the words of his case manager, James stands out “for his ability to push past barriers and negativity and aim for better opportunities. He has taken ahold of his life and now the positive possibilities for his future are endless.”
Once willing to throw a punch, James now works to inspire others, a living reminder that we are not defined by our past. James now works in the after-school program with his foster care agency and leads a young children’s choir, reminding young people in his situation that, well… they can sing.
The Network is delighted to honor James Milan’s courage and accomplishments as a 2015 Outstanding Tenant of the Year.