Program turns around homeless

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The people of Buffalo are known for toughing out winters that can be severe.

But for the city’s homeless people who live in abandoned homes, train tunnels and under bridges, remaining outdoors can have dire consequences.

A man who just wants to be called “Jeff” fell victim to last year’s blizzards and this year’s November storm that dumped seven feet of snow on parts of Buffalo.

He underwent a series of amputations and has now lost both legs to frostbite.

While there are more than 5,000 homeless people in Buffalo who are in and out of shelters in the course of a year, only fifty to sixty, like Jeff, attempt to survive outside, even after “Code Blue” warnings are issued.

“Most of the time it was a way of life,” Jeff said, referring to his two years living around a North Buffalo shopping plaza. “Survival was only in the real bad weather.”

Jeff’s whereabouts had been tracked by Jason Flores, who reaches out to the homeless for the Matt Urban Hope Center in Buffalo.

When Jeff suddenly went missing, Flores became alarmed. He began calling hospitals, jails, and even the morgue. He finally found Jeff at the Erie County Medical Center, where his life had been saved before.

This time Flores made a vow at Jeff’s bedside.

“We’ll do what we have to do,” Flores said. “Jeff will not return to the streets. We’ll make sure of that.”

After weeks of recovery, Jeff said goodbye to the staff and friends he had made at the Medical Center.

Registered Nurse Lynne Golombek said she tried to instill in Jeff a sense of optimism. She believes he can make it. “He has what it takes to get past this and he can live safely.”

Mustering up the strength that helped him battle alcoholism and long stretches of joblessness, Jeff began a new chapter in his life. Arrangements were made to place him in his own apartment. He had concerns about being on his own again. “New neighborhood. Never been there before,” he said.

But this time Jeff has a network of people who not only believe in him, but are in a position to help. He is now part of the Housing First Program, which places the chronically homeless in permanent supportive housing.

While Jeff’s new apartment still needs some modifications to accommodate his wheel chair, he immediately began exploring his new home.

Wheeling up to a closet he said, “I can reach the hangers. I’m not worried about that.”

Floyd Smith of Housing First helped Jeff get settled-in.

“He’s in an apartment. He’s not in the streets,” Smith said. “He has food, he has clothing, he gets a phone, he has TV. Everything he needs to move on to the next level in his life.”

In Erie County 25 agencies receive $11 million to house and support those with the greatest needs.

Now it is up to Jeff to start life anew.

“I appreciate the help. I definitely want to get back to work if I can. I’m sure there is work out there at some point,” he said. “You’ve got to have a positive attitude. I’ve got that. I’m gonna get through and get by.”

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