The Graduate

Robert L. Karash
Spare Change News

When one thinks of graduation, one might envision an idyllic campus in June, nice weather, greenery, caps and gowns, and the future with success. But for homeless people, a graduation from a transitional housing program means the beginning of a new life with a new home.

For the general population of the displaced, homeless, afflicted, and downtrodden, there are places where they have to live. Many live on a city street, under a bridge, in a public emergency shelter, or, if they are fortunate and determined enough, in transitional housing. There exists a special hope for homeless people which will help them out of their situation. Transitional housing will provide them with a residence for a limited time until, with help and assistance, they achieve their life recovery.

These residents spend a year or two in their transitional housing residence. After applying, applied for permanent housing, keeping their personal afflictions and demons in check, gotten an income or job, they will usually graduate. Their graduation ceremony is not on a fancy campus but it’s just as urgent, impressive, and important. It’s even more of an achievement for them than going through the motions of a university journey.

And this graduation to a full life recovery has certificates and a ceremony which is warmer and more intimate than one might imagine.

Not everyone graduates from a life recovery program. Help is available, but the rules are strict, the onus is on the person himself to get most of the work done and be motivated. This might seem stringent and uncaring, and to some inhumane, but it isn’t. The motivation to change one’s course away from disaster and a life spun out of control to a life reclaimed, has to come from the inside.

One of the many proofs that this onus is centrally on the person, inside his own soul, on a related theme, is exemplified in the story of the successful Rhode Island state senator and businessman, Rowland Hazard III. Back in the early 20th century, Hazard was a very successful businessman who had a very serious drinking problem. Having money and being from an old and prestigious family, he decided to leave New England to be treated by the world famous psychiatrist, Dr. Carl G. Jung in Switzerland. Jung spent time with Mr. Hazard but after a while Dr. Jung simply said to him that he couldn’t help him.
Hazard was aghast. After all, Jung was the best and most erudite and insightful psychiatrist in the world, so how could this be? Simple. Dr. Jung realized the demons of addiction and substance abuse were far too controlling and insidious to be dealt with in his treatment model. Dr. Jung knew that he couldn’t follow Mr. Hazard around all day and night to make sure he didn’t drink when tempted. Still, Mr. Hazard was dumbfounded. He didn’t get it. Finally he asked Dr. Jung, “Is there nothing I can do to save my life?”. Jung thought, and said that the only hope was a moment of clarity and self-realization, and a spiritual awakening. He was telling Hazard that it was up to him and a Higher Power to decide in his heart of hearts that the time had come to change his life. He recommended some spiritual groups to Hazard, such as the Oxford Movement in England. In its concept, this group was later fundamental to the founding of 12-step programs and Alcoholics Anonymous.
So we see, by analogy, that in a transitional housing program, the staff can administer all the tests for substance abuse and wellness that they can. They can try to monitor the person to see that he stays on track while in the program but it’s up to the person himself to see the light and “walk the talk”. People who violate these rules in a program run the risk of being expelled, as harsh as it sounds, back to the public shelter or wherever they can arrange to go.

Transitional housing programs are a gift in many ways. Not everyone has substance abuse problems or criminal backgrounds. Some may be victims of horrendously bad circumstances and twists of fate, estranged from family and friends, or just simply homeless. They might face psychological struggles. But this requires a life recovery, too.
The goal of a transitional housing residence and program is to get the person stabilized in his new room, get him working again, and have him pay room and board. In this way, the resident is given a rare opportunity to succeed again and to achieve something very significant. During this whole process, the resident must file for permanent housing outside in the community and wait for it to come through, which will likely take quite a while. Sometimes these individuals are bogged down by issues such as a past criminal record or a ruined credit record. Yet in most cases, even these deficits can be mitigated by proper attitude and motivation, when accompanied by help from the agencies involved and the counseling staff at the residence.

It’s a huge undertaking for all involved. The stakes are high: one’s sanity, one’s future, one’s life itself are at risk. People may have to learn how to live ordinary life again and perform all the related tasks required, like paying bills on time and doing the laundry for themselves.

What’s really nice about some of these transitional housing programs is that when one successfully completes the program, gets their own place to live, and has income, the program will give the person back his accrued room and board payments to help get him furniture and things for his new life. It’s not critical but it’s an extra benefit given by some programs. And the process doesn’t end after graduation. There is so-called “outside stabilization” by the outreach staff of the transitional housing and residential program to make reasonably sure that the new member of society, now living in the community-at-large, is doing well, has proper supports, and is doing the right things to continue to succeed. But the primitive umbilical cord has been cut: the graduate is running his own life again and must take responsibility to succeed and also to ask for help if he needs it, should things get shaky.

When one attends such a graduation ceremony, as a spectator, or as a graduating success story, one is moved because this certificate was really earned in the hardest way that one can imagine. No wonder the room in which the graduation takes place is so warm. No wonder each face is covered with a smile from their heart, tears in everyone’s eyes for the accomplishment.

One would be pressed to find a better piece of earned parchment or diploma.
As with the ancient Greek mythological story of Pandora and her jar of ills, we are left with the stark fact that there is indeed Hope for even the most hopeless, and a way back up. And it’s not about a future of plastics as in the movie, The Graduate. This investment is much more solid.

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