April 13, 2021
The blonde man with the Coke-bottom glasses and the Red Wings baseball cap—though pleasant, even friendly—seems nervous to find himself talking with a stranger.
As he opens up, it becomes clear why Malcolm, 59, is anxious.
“I was never officially diagnosed with agoraphobia,” Malcolm says. “So, I was always kind of nervous about going outside. It was very difficult to go to look for work. And I’m not in skilled labor. As I got older, the agoraphobia kind of hurt me a lot.”
Malcolm lost jobs because he feared going outside. Soon enough, he was unable to pay his rent. His landlord, he says, was understanding for a long time, but eventually evicted him.
In 2015, Malcom became homelessness. He has been homeless ever since.
Malcolm is among a group of individuals experiencing homelessness who are chronically homeless. These individuals are homeless for a year or more – or repeatedly – while struggling with a disabling condition such as a serious mental illness, substance use disorder, or physical disability, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
On a single night in January 2019, 96,141 homeless individuals had chronic patterns of homelessness nationwide, or 24 percent of the total population of homeless individuals, said the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
In Michigan, in 2019, the number of homeless persons considered chronically homeless was 6,625, according to the Michigan State Development Housing Authority (MSDHA). Nearly 57 percent of those individuals were Black, MSDHA said.
Individuals experiencing chronic homelessness are particularly vulnerable because they often live in unsheltered locations and disproportionately have one or more disabilities.
This was true of Malcolm. In 2017, a man attacked Malcolm in a bus shelter where he was sleeping for the night.
“Some crazy guy came along wanting to fight,” Malcolm recalls. “I didn’t want to fight him, and I tried walking away, but he grabbed my coat and threw me down. I had very severe bruised ribs after that.
The good news for one man…
At MCREST, living in a motel with other individuals and families experiencing homelessness forced Malcolm out of his shell. Suddenly, he couldn’t isolate himself anymore.
Once the worst of the anxiety passed, Malcolm’s kind, easygoing nature led to friendships. He now counts a few other men who also have experienced homelessness as some of his best friends.
In these friendships, he is even able to find a silver lining to his own experience of homelessness.
“Some of my closest friends are homeless or have been homeless,” Malcolm says. “Two of the guys I know have housing. The others don’t. But hey, I never would have met them if I hadn’t been homeless. We all have a shared experience.”
Through MCREST, Malcolm has been able to access counseling.
But friendship and even counseling have not solved all Malcolm’s problems. He still doesn’t have housing. But recently, with the aid and advocacy of his MCREST case manager, he obtained a Section 8 housing voucher. Now, he envisions a future where he has a home.
He remains laser-focused on keeping housing. But he knows that he will need help along the way.
“I never thought I’d be homeless for five years when I first became homeless,” Malcolm says. “You just have to do the best you can and, always, maintain your dignity. And when you need help, ask for help.”