In 2010, Alex Johnson had it all: a lovely wife, a beautiful home (along with several rentals) and a strong relationship with his family. But then, he lost both of his parents and his wife within a couple of years of each other. Though he had insurance, he was left with half a million dollars in medical bills and seemingly endless problems, including tenants who couldn’t afford to pay their rent because of the recession.
“I sold everything I had to hold on to the last thing I had, and then it was worth nothing,” he says.
At the age of 59, he found himself living on the streets, riding the bus at night just to stay warm. This, of course, was not the healthiest way to live, and it led to serious illnesses — something he didn’t care very much about at the time.
“I wasn’t afraid of dying, but I was afraid of living,” Johnson recalls.
While he wasn’t worried about his condition, his adult children were — and they forced him to visit Northern Nevada HOPES, which has a mission to provide affordable, high-quality, medical, behavioral health, and support services for all.
“It was the best thing I ever did,” Johnson says. “When I walked through those doors, I started my life over.”
The HOPES team welcomed him with open arms and began helping him address his various physical and mental ailments. Once they helped him get to a good place, they started introducing him to potential employers. He applied to be a janitor at Kimmie Candy in 2017, but the hiring director was so impressed with his curiosity and abilities that they put him in sales instead. In December 2018, he was promoted to Business Development Director for this local candy manufacturing company.
Housing is healthcare
The average life expectancy in the United States is 80 years old, yet it’s only 60 for someone experiencing homelessness. So getting Johnson and others off the streets is a fundamental goal for philanthropic organizations that care for the health and well-being of our neighbors.
“Housing is healthcare,” explains HOPES Director of Philanthropy Mandi Fleiner. “We know there are many factors that go into the health of a person, and that first major need is a roof over their head.”
The HOPES team has been focused on the physical and mental health of Northern Nevadans since 1997. In order to provide that crucial missing piece for their clients, earlier this year, they began construction on Hope Springs, a bridge-housing community where people without homes can live while they address their physical and mental issues. Bridge housing is different from a shelter, in that it provides privacy, safety, autonomy and security for individuals with the efficiency of shared resources like kitchens, bathrooms and laundry.
“It’s difficult to focus on your health when you don’t know where you’re going to sleep,” explains HOPES CEO Sharon Chamberlain. “Hope Springs is a safe and dignified place for our community’s most disenfranchised to live while they access support services to help them heal and also improve their quality of life.”
Scheduled to open in January 2021, the community includes 30 individual sleeping units surrounding a central, 3,200-square-foot facility containing restrooms, showers, laundry, kitchen and community space. Staff and community members have access to offices where they can meet with HOPES clients to help them address issues keeping them from more permanent housing, like financial planning and maintaining employment. Community members will use the shared kitchen to teach them about nutrition and food preparation skills.
“In addition to the security of being able to sleep in a place with a locked door, people need a place to store their belongings, including medication,” Chamberlain says.
While the units are technically single occupancy, residents are welcome to bring their dogs with them. HOPES has partnered with the Nevada Humane Society to provide supplies, but also training — for the dogs and their owners. Once they go through the program, they’ll receive a special certificate that they can share with a potential landlord to show that the dog is rental-ready.
It takes a community
While the HOPES team has raised the $2.5 million necessary to build Hope Springs, there are still plenty of other ways in which people can help.
“We’re grateful to the community that we were able to wrap up our capital campaign,” Fleiner says. “But our needs continue to be great.”
“If you’re somebody who likes to craft, we can use full-sized quilts (that the residents can keep when they move on), hats and scarves,” Fleiner says. “This becomes even more welcome now that we’re moving into the winter months.”
Residents can also use hygiene items and dog food and other supplies for their pets.
“Financial donations can be used for spaying or neutering the dogs, or other needs they have,” Fleiner says. She adds that Hope Springs is also looking to partner with a veterinary clinic to provide free or discounted services for their residents’ pets.
Return on investment
By providing bridge housing, case management, medical and behavioral health care, HOPES will increase health outcomes and housing stability among Hope Springs residents, which will, in turn, benefit the community at large.
“At Hope Springs, they have real skin in the game,” Fleiner says. “They have individualized care programs, and they start working on their exit strategy from day one. While we’re working with them on their physical and mental health, residents are also learning new skills and how to work and live on their own.”
All of this translates to savings for our community, as taxpayers ultimately shoulder the financial burden of those experiencing homelessness by helping fund services they encounter like hospitals, social services, shelters – and sometimes, jails.
The bottom line: Fleiner estimates that a bridge-housing community like Hope Springs translates to $1.3 million dollars in annual savings for our community if they temporarily house 30 to 60 residents a year.
In addition to giving them skills, Hope Springs gives its residents hope — for themselves, but also for others that they can help in the future.
Now that Johnson is back on his feet, he returns to HOPES to help out whenever he can.
“There’s one letter difference between ‘hope’ and ‘home,’” Johnson says. “They’ve given me so much, that I’ll do anything I can to help them and the people they help.”
For more information and to donate, visit www.nnhopes.org/hopesprings.
“We appreciate all donations, whether it’s $1 or $100,” Fleiner says. “Whatever it is, we can put it to use to help our residents achieve their goals.”
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