From homelessness to having a real future

Written by admin   // February 10, 2011   // 0 Comments

Wilton Johnson casually talks about living in a drug house for two years while he was in high school. He managed to graduate, but no one knew about the lie he was living.

The worst part, he says, was having little to eat, basically living on Raman noodles he could buy when his cousin, who owned the place, gave him a couple dollars here and there.

But the experience, which followed being thrown out of his house and six years in foster care, took its toll. A sister took him in, but that didn’t work out either. Wil felt like she was treating him as a son while she had one of her own to care for. He felt like a burden and became seriously depressed.

Wil ended up in the county mental health complex and later in a county run group home While there, his mother visited him. “She said, ‘You belong here,’ and she walked out and left,“ Wil said. “It was hard; I felt like something’s gotta happen with my life.”

Landing in a homeless shelter, a social worker referred him to the Supportive Permanent Housing program at St. Aemilian-Lakeside, a social services agency at 89th and Capitol. Things finally began to happen.

Next month marks Wil’s one-year anniversary with the program. He now lives in a one-bedroom apartment, with furnishings and food supplied by St. Aemilian-Lakeside. The agency has set him up with a therapist, and he is visited weekly by Katie Ball, Supportive Permanent Housing case manager.

He attends MATC full time and wants to become a teacher, with an ultimate goal of becoming a dean, “when I’m about 60 years old!” he said with a laugh.

Wil laughs a lot now, thanks in large part to Katie and the life’s path she is helping him follow. “She’s the difference between being here and being homeless,” he said.

And Katie is enjoying her experience with Wil, a young man he says is “very curious and engaged.”

The Supportive Permanent Housing program serves nine formerly homeless young adults 18-24 who, like Wil, have mental health concerns on some level and need support to transition to adulthood and become productive members of the community in which we all live. The program is one of three St. Aemilian-Lakeside started within the last four years that provide independent living services to former foster youth.

“This is a population that really needs our help,” said Jane Ottow, Independent Living Services supervisor. “Without it, many end up on the streets, preyed upon, or ultimately in the criminal justice system. Anyone who wants to lend a hand can call me at 414-465-1363.”

There’s a lot of work that goes into keeping Wil and the other young people in the program safe, happy and focused on their future. For Wil, the best thing is not thinking too much about his past.

“It’s too scary to think about what life would have been like without St. Aemilian’s.”

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