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Alberto in front of his apartment in South LA where he has lived for the past five years.
Four years ago, Step Up interviewed Alberto and his Service Coordinator. At that time, Alberto had been living in his home for a year. Alberto is still living in the same apartment today! We caught up with Alberto last month about his journey with homelessness, mental health, and how he’s doing now.
A FAMILY MAN, AN ARMY MAN
The eldest of six children in a family headed by a career Army man, Alberto was surrounded by positive male role models, and encouraged to secure an education. He graduated with a major in political science from UC Berkeley, married his high school sweetheart, and joined the Army. Alberto learned to drive tanks and was stationed in Hawaii. Then, without knowing why, everything he worked for, everything he believed in, and everything he wanted crumbled at his feet, leading him to living on the streets in Los Angeles for the better part of 20 years.
A MENTAL HEALTH DIAGNOSIS AND SUPPORTIVE HOUSING
It is not uncommon for symptoms of schizophrenia to appear in the mid-to-late 20s, which is what Alberto experienced. He was discharged from the Army after serving almost three years. He and his wife divorced and she took their two children to Maryland and he headed to California to reconnect with his mother and siblings. His Army training qualified him to drive for Loomis Armored and then for a delivery service. He was seriously injured in a work-related accident and not long after, received his mental health diagnosis. The family with whom he had reconnected moved away. He ended up staying on the streets, using drugs and alcohol to numb his pain. Sometimes he would sleep in a tent or he would use part of his disability payment to buy 29 days of the month in an SRO motel downtown. Alberto also stayed at shelters.
Alberto wanted to get some kind of help. In order to qualify for housing, he was told he needed an ID which required a birth certificate. He didn’t have one and didn’t know how to get it because he was born on a military base in Panama. Step Up Service Coordinator, Lauren Eccker called the Embassy and Washington, D.C. She took him to the VA and Alberto received an ID there. He received his Veteran housing voucher and moved into his apartment. He became stable on his medication, and he went from intensive supervision to meeting with Lauren once a month.
UBUNTU: a Zulu expression meaning “ I am, because we are.”
Alberto is a great advocate for individuals he knew on the streets. He referred three other Veterans experiencing chronic homelessness who were housed and participated in Step Up’s Veteran’s Programs. Alberto wants people to know his life is better, that working with Step Up made all the difference in his ability to navigate a very complicated system, and he recommends that anyone who needs housing and qualifies to give Section 8 housing a try. He regularly visits Skid Row to tell other Veterans that life can be different for them if they want it to be. He knows firsthand.
“I understand why people end up on the streets even after they find a place to stay,” said Alberto. “They get lonely being in a room or an apartment without conversation.” It is this sense of community and social connection that is referred to as Ubuntu, loosely translated from Zulu to mean, “I am, because of who we all are.”
WORKING POSITIVELY AND RECONNECTING
Though he has been sad that his father recently passed and will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, Alberto is pleased to report that he has reconnected with his adult children and has met his grandchildren, who all live in Maryland, via video chat. Alberto is saving up money to be able to fly east and visit his family in person once the pandemic is under control.
Alberto is now working with Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) Service Coordinator II Trachelle Singleton, who describes Alberto as a “model client” because he keeps his appointments, takes his medication, and has goals to work toward. Alberto says, “We have to look at what we can do positively and work toward that.”
Alberto would like to work as a peer helping others who are in positions he found himself in for almost 20 years. To keep from being isolated during the pandemic, Alberto is riding buses and trains all over Los Angeles County, exploring and scouting locations to take his family when they come to visit him.
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