Maria Walker is grateful for the support she was given to turn her life around and now takes time to give back to the community.
A difficult childhood leads to a cycle of abuse, homelessness and addiction
Born in 1960 in Puerto Rico to a family with 12 children, Maria didn’t have an easy childhood. At 12 her stepfather tried to sexually abuse her. By 13, he kicked her out of the family. With no place to call home and no family guidance, she soon became pregnant and worked as a dancer to survive.
At age 21, Maria moved to the United States to live with her aunt, but that ended quickly. Shortly thereafter, Maria entered into an abusive relationship that lasted 11 years. During this time, Maria discovered that she had contracted HIV from intravenous drug use.
After learning that her mother was living in New Haven, Maria decided to move there in the hopes of starting fresh. But with no income to support her, the cycle continued – for the next 10 years she sold drugs and was in and out of jail. After completing a 1.5 year sentence, she pledged to change her life and stay away from drugs and out of jail. But to make that happen, she needed something that had been missing from her life: support.
An Opportunity to Start Over – Supportive Housing
Support came in the form of transitional housing through McKinney House in Stamford, a two-year program designed for people living with HIV. McKinney House provided Maria with safety, stability and a sense of community, but was a temporary program.
Maria found the permanency she needed through the Pilots program at Family & Children’s Agency of Norwalk. Maria secured a spot in their Next Steps Supportive Housing Program, which includes support services and a permanent residence.
Maria now leads a Danbury support group for people with HIV/AIDS and volunteered for the 2011 Point-in-Time count homeless census. When she’s not doing support work, she advocates on behalf of others living with HIV/AIDS, giving educational presentations about the realities of HIV.
She’s thriving in the first apartment she has ever called her own.
Even though it took me a lot of struggle through addiction and jail, I’m happy to be where I am.
Maria credits the support she received from her case manager and the staff at Family & Children’s Agency for her recovery and success. “I thank God that they’ve stayed with me from start to finish.”
Maria has been clean for 7 years and her HIV is undetectable. Permanent supportive housing has helped Maria to rebuild her life, gain access to employment, stabilize her health and reconnect to her community.
The High Cost of Maria’s Homelessness
Helping Maria end her homelessness and get back on her feet through supportive housing wasn’t just the right thing to do; it was also the most cost effective solution to ending her homelessness.
The year after Maria exited jail for the last time, she utilized a number of institutional services, including:
- 335 days at a sober house (halfway house)
- 30 days in prison
- 1 arrest
- 44 re-entry program meetings
- 72 substance abuse treatment out-patient meetings
Over the course of the year, these institutional services cost over $30,000 – with some of the programs/services billed at close to $100/day.
Supportive Housing: Lower Costs, Better Outcomes
Supportive housing costs far less – approximately $19,500 over a year – and the outcomes are unparalleled.
Supportive housing combines affordable apartments with on-site or visiting support and employment services. A cost-effective solution for people with disabilities, mental illness, addiction and other issues, supportive housing provides its tenants with the support they need to stay housed and out of shelters, prisons, hospitals and other institutions.
Through supportive housing, Maria has a safe and affordable place to call home and receives the support she needs. She no longer utilizes costly services now that she has this support.
Over the past year she has attended a weekly substance out-patient support group and used the emergency room once – nothing more.