As the night approached, Jerald Cribbs sprawls out across the concrete with his head resting on his backpack. He shut his eyes and tried to feel safe.
Half a mile away, Durrell Patton had draped himself over an old courthouse bench as he tried to sleep despite the car horns and bright headlights whizzing past him.
That was four years ago. Now, Jerald, age 46, and Durrell, age 52, have spent three and four years respectively in their new apartments complete with kitchens, bathrooms and beds.
When they aren’t working or volunteering at the food pantry, Jerald often plays on his PlayStation 3 while Durrell patrols the hallways with his new phone in hand – always ready to call the main office if trouble arises.
“I’m so thankful for these glasses and this phone. Compared to what I had out there,” he said, gesturing to the window, “I got everything now.”
This transition was facilitated by Crawford Homes in Bloomington — an organization that provides housing, as well as emotional and medical support for more than 60 people facing long-term homelessness.
The individuals accepted into the program must have been homeless for at least a year and have some kind of physical, mental or developmental disability. The program managers also assess how vulnerable the person is to dying on the streets, especially due to medical reasons.
For Jerald, that medical reason was his diabetes. This condition is what led him to lose his job as a semi-truck driver, which in turn led him to homelessness. It was also the condition that caused him to contract chronic nerve damage in his feet and legs after other homeless people stole his medication for recreational use.
Danielle Sorden, director of Crawford Homes, said Jerald’s physical ailment is just one aspect of well-being that they target.
“We’re here to give them whatever support they need,” she said. “These individuals have faced violence, assault, trauma, hopelessness and emotional distress during their time on the streets, so we really have to listen and help.”
But the transition to housing is not always easy. The first year or so can involve trouble adjusting to a new environment.
For Jerald, seven years of homelessness made adapting to permanent housing especially difficult. At first, he slept on the floor of his apartment because a comfortable bed had become unfamiliar to him. And during his first four months at Crawford, Jerald stayed in his room with his door locked as he grappled with the strangeness of his new situation.
“It was definitely weird,” he said. “I kept falling out of bed. I couldn’t remember what a bed was supposed to feel like. I even locked myself in my room for months just trying to process everything that had changed.”
But Jerald’s initial experience is common among Crawford residents.
“We don’t expect much from them when they first come in,” Danielle said. “If they just want to stay in their rooms and take it all in, that’s fine. That’s normal.”
Durrell said the Crawford case managers are always there to help new residents transition from homelessness to housing by giving them focus. In addition, because residents often pay their own rent and have their own leases, they gain a new sense of purpose.
“They really keep you on top of things,” he said. “They help you wake up and feel responsible. You see that this is your home, your lease, your responsibility, so it keeps you focused on why you’re there and how you’re moving forward.”
Despite any initial trouble with adjusting, Durrell appreciates the changes in his life.
“Beautiful,” he said. “That’s all I can say. It’s been beautiful.”
Another reason life is now beautiful is because of the changes he has noticed in himself. One such change is that he no longer relies on alcohol — the vice that helped lead him to homelessness originally.
“Drinking was my nemesis, my kryptonite,” he said. “I used to drink just to get through living on the streets, but now I don’t drink nearly as much. Still do from time to time, but nothing like before. No, nothing like before.”
Mostly, these changes are hinged on his pride, which often got him into trouble during his years living on the street.
“I still got that pride,” he said. “But now I can handle it. When someone insults me or pushes my buttons, I don’t just react and get angry. I’m calm. I think things over before I act.”
Jerald, on the other hand, said he’s still the same person as he was when he was homeless, but has seen changes in his ability to dream.
“I’m still the same guy, but I guess I think about the future more. Now I’ve got goals.”
These goals now include business ventures in the Philippines alongside his cousin who lives there. Once he receives his inheritance after his family’s old farm in Arkansas is sold, Jerald says he hopes to buy a collection of fishing boats and later a new house with his girlfriend, Romela.
“I really want to corner that market and get into the fishing business. Then I want to get married, have a couple kids. I’m still young enough.”
This business and family is what Jerald sees as the next stage of his life.
For Durrell, this next stage involves his passion for cooking and the kitchen in his new home.
“I know you gotta start somewhere, but I don’t want to just stop at someplace like Burger King,” he said while looking at the Burger King sitting just outside his window. “I really just want to be able to use my skills.”
Durrell dreams of working at a steakhouse.
“I really want that fast-pace and bustling environment of a steakhouse kitchen,” he said. “It doesn’t even have to be a steakhouse. It could be Italian or whatever, just a place to test my culinary skills.”
For Jerald and Durrell, the next stages of their lives will require new transitions, more change and hard work.
But most of all, Danielle said the residents of Crawford are looking to realize their own hopes for the future while also supporting one another as they pursue their goals.
“It really is a community. They cook for one another, they help each other out when someone has a problem and they support each other and help each other reach the goals they set out to achieve.”