Sonya smiled

A view from the right of the end of a bed covered with a gray-and-red-striped comforter, to a light-colored bistro table, chairs and chest of drawers, and part of a kitchenette, with refrigerator and stove.
An example of a fully-furnished apartment such as Sonya’s.

Gaining housing after years, sometimes decades, of homelessness, can be a too-good-to-be true moment for some of our clients.

They’ve often had close calls, heard idle promises and have had people lie to and take advantage of them, so it is understandable.

This is the story of one of the nearly 1,500 people in DESC’s permanent supportive housing programs. We will call her Sonya. Come along with us as this new tenant sees her home for the first time, and staff members feel the positive impact of the work we all do together.

Sonya didn’t like the elevator: “What happens when it breaks down?” She didn’t like that the apartment building was so far from downtown. Everyone she knew was still in the shelter. She complained all the way into the apartment, but then fell silent. She walked to the big window and stood looking out from it for a little while. We let her process.

“A view,” she finally said.

Her head low, she walked past us and investigated the bathroom, opened some drawers in the kitchen and looked at the bed. She sat on the bed, and tears started flowing. The brusque, questioning client who walked in had become vulnerable and emotional.

“What do I have to do to keep a place like this?” was her first question. She wanted to make sure there weren’t requirements, like sobriety, or going to church where she didn’t want to, or something like that.

We explained that the rules we had were about safety and being a good neighbor, but that she had all of the rights of any tenant in any apartment.

She said, “You know I am poor, right?”

We assured her that we knew she had no income, no benefits. And then she said, “And you know I can’t work–on my bad days the voices in my head…”

We again assured her that we knew this. We stood by as she cried for a while, looking at the view, and finally collected herself and said, “Okay, this is probably one of those model apartments, so let’s go look at what I would really live in.”

“No, Sonya, this is it,” we explained. “If you like it, we can give you the key to this right here.”

And she smiled! Who knew Sonya could smile?

“This is my bed–this is my pillow?” She ran back into the bathroom. “This is my crapper?” she giggled.

Sonya giggled!

“I feel like this is the ‘Price is Right’ or something!”

It’s amazing how a tough day for us turned out to be so rewarding. It was like a switch turned in Sonya’s head, and suddenly she loved everything. She loved the bedding, loved that the sheets were not plain, were not white. And everything was new–she noticed that the dishes weren’t chipped and the towel was fluffy. She touched all the kitchen items.

“I’m going to learn to cook finally.”

We were seeing a Sonya that probably hadn’t surfaced in years.

The two of us left Sonya in her apartment, and as soon as we were out of sight, we hugged each other and cried. As privileged as Sonya felt, we felt privileged too, for being part of that moment.

You are a part of these moments. You help us provide homes with all the furnishings and houseware, plus health care and services to set our new residents up for success. You help us help them.