Hope is a mysterious force. It is less of a thing and more of an idea, but the power that it holds is undeniable. Hope is the thought that “I can,” rather than “I can’t.” It is a critical part of the human experience because it is what sustains us during difficult times. This is the story of a man who has found hope after surviving for years without it. This is the story of Mark McCoy.
Mark used to have a family, a wife and kids to come back home to. However, Mark has had a long struggle with substance abuse that began before he had a family to call his own. The fallout from his continued use of substances eventually drove a rift between himself and the rest of his family. They left him more than 20 years ago, and his path in life has since been a lonely one.
Mark lived on the streets alone for years. He continued to struggle with his substance abuse as well as his physical and mental health. He visited Hartford’s own St. Francis Hospital and Hartford Hospital emergency room 59 times in 2017. Mark was also incarcerated often, and was traumatized by his experiences while imprisoned. Due to his trauma, Mark became fearful of the crowded homeless shelter environment. He instead slept outside or frequented emergency rooms for some form of sanctuary. Throughout all of these trials and tribulations, Mark remained lonely. “I just got used to being alone.” For the last several years, Mark never slept in one place for more than 5 days in row. As a result, it was very challenging for him to make lasting connections with providers who could work with him towards stable housing.
After years of living on the streets, Mark felt that he could barely call his lifestyle ‘life.’ “My life was going downhill. I was just existing…nothing else.” Signs of change for the better finally came in the form of Mary Jo Capitani, a Peer Recovery Specialist from Beacon Health Options, and Journey Home’s own Kelly Gonzalez. Mary Jo, for years, worked to address Mark’s needs as a human being. She began with his long-term isolation and loneliness. As a peer, she met Mark on his terms to help him with his recovery. Similarly, Kelly worked with Mark to prepare him for housing, guiding him through the system and convincing him that he could make it. While Mark had lost all hope for himself, Mary Jo and Kelly made it clear that they believed in him. Mark noted that “they helped me to believe. I never did. They didn’t give up…on me.”
Mark was a member enrolled in the North Central Region Community Care Team (CCT), a work group of healthcare and housing providers. The CCT meets regularly to create coordinated care plans for patients facing challenging health issues. Because of Mark’s enrollment in the CCT, Mary Jo, Kelly and his other providers were able to regularly communicate with each other and make sure that he did not fall through the cracks as he moved from place to place across the state.
Despite the challenges, Mary Jo and Kelly never gave up on Mark. They continually encouraged him to seek shelter, followed him around the state, and did not allow him to disengage from services despite his many attempts to do so. Mary Jo’s and Kelly’s investment in Mark helped him enabled him to stay the course. Finally, four days before Christmas of 2017, Mark was able to turn the keys and walk into his first home in many years. He has since been connected with a primary care provider and a therapist for his physical and mental health. With these great accomplishments marking the end of his homelessness, Mark dared to do what he hadn’t in years: he began to believe in himself again.
Mark’s renewed sense of hope has had incredible effects on his lifestyle. His new, stable connections to primary care services have helped him to manage his physical and mental health with a newfound degree of independence and effectiveness. A testament to his recent growth is how he has drastically reduced his reliance upon emergency departments. While he visited the St. Francis and Hartford Hospital emergency departments a combined 59 times in 2017 before being housed, he has only been to the Hartford Hospital emergency department once in the four months since getting the keys to his own place.
Mark’s apartment is a refuge for him to call his own. It’s a quiet place of rest, as he calls it. With his newfound sense of security, Mark has begun making efforts to help those who are still walking the path of homelessness that he knows so well. For example, Mark has been both a recipient and a donor for Journey Home’s Making a House a Home program (MHH). Soon after he received furniture from Alison Scharr, MHH’s coordinator, Mark facilitated the donation of some mattresses from a local hotel that he had been working for. He has also been volunteering with the Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition, where he hopes to use his experiences to help give hope to those still experiencing homelessness and are seeking recovery.
As the next chapter of Mark’s life unfolds, one thing is clear: his future is brighter than it has been in years. Mark’s rekindled hope and the positive impact that it has had is apparent to all those who have been working with him through his recent trials and tribulations. Mark’s new apartment, his greater connectivity to healthcare, his reduced dependence on emergency rooms, and especially the smile and laughter with which he now greets others are all the kinds of change that we aspire to provide for clients here at Journey Home. People like Kelly, Mary Jo, and Alison are the kind of people that make these ideals a reality. We couldn’t be more fortunate to have such wonderful staff here at Journey Home, and collaborators at our partner agencies.