The Cycle of Homelessness Ends for Bethesda Man After 30 Years on the Streets

Posted: March 22, 2013 by thehomelesspage in Culture, Original Stories, People

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Bethesda resident Alex Enyi at Bethesda Cares near the picture of the key of his apartment.

By Heather Curtis

After spending the better part of 30 years living on the streets, last November Nigerian immigrant Alex Enyi got something he desperately needed: his own place. A photocopy of the key to his studio apartment in downtown Bethesda is signed and framed on the wall of Bethesda Cares, the Montgomery County nonprofit that worked with Enyi to get his apartment.

The key is alongside dozens of others and serves as a sign of hope to the chronically homeless, medically vulnerable clients Bethesda Cares serves. The nonprofit uses a cost-effective Housing First approach to find permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless. This approach makes housing the first step out of homelessness, instead of temporary shelters or substance abuse treatment programs.

The photocopy of the key also represents success in a hard-fought battle against physical illness and drug addiction Enyi struggled with during his three decades out in the elements.

Enyi moved to America in January 1972 with plans to attend college, but before he could finish earning his degree, cocaine and alcohol addiction took hold and then homelessness.

“I had high hope when I left Nigeria. I come to see the whole dream shattered because of my lifestyle, alcohol and drug sometimes it’s very hurtful,” Enyi said.

Enyi got caught in the cycle of homelessness all too familiar to the chronically homeless. Living on the streets exacerbated Enyi’s Hepatitis C and other health problems, forcing him into emergency rooms. From there he was often sent to emergency shelters or put into temporary housing.

The first time Enyi was homeless in the 1980s he was put into a hotel in Prince George’s County for three days.

“The third day the lady knocked and said, ‘you gotta check out.’ Where am I checking out? I’m going back to the same place I came from. So when I took the bus to Langley Park, I looked out and said, what am I gonna do now?” Enyi said.

He found out shelters weren’t a good option because many people there used drugs and alcohol, fueling his addiction.

“You still have the problems that are making you homeless when you’re at the shelter,” Enyi said.

So Enyi wound up sleeping on benches in the Bethesda Metro Station. When it was unbearably cold, he would go to an emergency room just to warm up and get a meal.

“Anything that happened to me then, I run to the emergency room,” he said. Before he knew it, he had been caught up in this cycle of alternating among emergency rooms, shelters and the streets for 20 years.

Before Enyi got his place in a county-run apartment complex for the formerly homeless, he was sleep deprived, sick, addicted to drugs and alcohol, out of touch with his family in Nigeria and barely functioning.

He said having a place of his own has been a starting point to solve his problems. Now he’s clean and going to AA, attending his doctor’s appointments, and he even reconnected with his family through Facebook.

“It’s a big difference being out there and having your own place,” he said. He adds he’s learned not to dwell on what could have been if he didn’t get caught up in the cycle of homelessness.

“I don’t get mad about anything. I’m happier now than I was when I was on the streets. That’s what matters.”

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