Kenneth began experiencing symptoms of mental illness about the time he left the Navy. Following that, he found himself homeless for five years in California. He eventually moved to Ohio to be near his family, but then became homeless again for another ten years. “I was living under a bridge. I had a bad drug problem at the time and I spent my days playing the guitar, writing poetry and praying under the bridge. I only came out to shower at a church and get something to eat.” Eventually, a homeless outreach worker began to visit Kenneth under the bridge to talk to him about a group home that he could move into. “He visited me for four or five months before I finally agreed to visit group home with him. I had lived in institutions before and I was afraid because I didn’t want another institution. But it looked okay, so I agreed to move in.” At that point, Kenneth began working with a mental health case manager and told her that he wanted to work. “I always wanted to work but I wasn’t sure how to get a job. I didn’t know the steps to take. You have to talk to people to get a job. Also, I was out of work for so long—I didn’t think anyone would hire me. My case manager referred me to a job training program but after the training was over I was supposed to use a computer to find job leads. I couldn’t navigate that and things stopped right there. It was disappointing.” Eventually, the agency where Kenneth received mental health services began to offer IPS supported employment and he met an employment specialist named Rebecca. “Rebecca was hands on. She took me places which helped immensely because I was afraid to go by myself. She helped me apply for jobs and went to interviews with me.”
Almost two years ago, Kenneth was hired to wash dishes in a Lebanese restaurant. He reports that he likes working in the back of the restaurant so that he doesn’t have to come into contact with other people, and he also likes his boss. “I’d rather just focus on my job and not converse with other people. I work really hard. It just feels good to do a good job. I work to glorify God and that motivates me to keep working harder.” Kenneth’s boss agrees that he is a good worker, “He was one of the first to come work with me. Others have come and gone, but he’s still here. He’s wonderful.”
Kenneth’s employment specialist has noticed that Kenneth has changed a great deal since the days when they started looking for jobs together. “I remember that he wouldn’t look up at all and was so quiet. But even though he was so nervous and shy, he pushed through that because he was motivated to work. And I think that he feels better about himself now. Now that I am working, I have something to talk about when I see my family. And I can hold my head up because I am paying taxes and I’m part of society again. He also feels more comfortable, and now smiles because he feels like smiling. Kenneth agrees saying, “In the past, I was having trouble by not working. I think I was doing drugs because I had so much free time. And when I began receiving Social Security benefits, I didn’t feel good about getting help from the government when I wasn’t contributing. That was a big thing.”
In the future, Kenneth has plans to learn how to use computers and to pursue his interests in poetry and music. But in the meantime, he will keep working at his job. “Now that I am working, I have something to talk about when I see my family. And I can hold my head up because I am paying taxes. I’m part of society again.”
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