“Yolanda, a former resident of our supportive housing program, is a completely different person compared to the one I met over the phone last year,” says Adam Labiaga, LSSNY’s first-ever housing specialist in residential services.

“She wouldn’t just speak to anybody on the phone. She’d get suspicious. Over time I had to tell her to answer her phone, especially since she was looking for housing. I had to really push her out of her comfort zone. Today, she’s very chatty over the phone and more willing to talk to whoever is calling.”

Her transformation can be attributed to Adam, the St. John’s House team, and her determination and dream to live in her own apartment.

In line with LSSNY’s quest for social justice, leadership decided it was critical to have a housing specialist who could help participants move on from LSSNY’s transitional supportive housing and obtain their own independent apartments in the community.

“My role is to identify individuals who we know don’t need intensive case management services anymore,” says Adam. “They’re functionally able to take care of their own lives. I’m that bridge to help them cross over into independent living in their own apartments.”

Adam connects these individuals to rental assistance subsidies or identifies apartments that are already subsidized. He helps them fill out applications, “It can be overwhelming if the person is doing it themselves,” he says. “That’s where I come in. I don’t really expect social workers to have the time to talk to leasing management offices and go back and forth with paperwork. There are so many gears turning to make it all happen. It’s a process. Getting the subsidy can take two to four months and then finding an apartment can take another couple of months. Another piece of the puzzle is helping them navigate city agencies for moving expenses and processing of paperwork. It can take up to a year.”

In Yolanda, Adam found a motivated participant. “She’s very proactive. She used to call me every week to ask, ‘What’s next? What’s going to happen?’ I thought, ‘Oh wow, she means business,” he says.

Yolanda would hit the pavement every week. She saw between eight to twelve apartments. “She would tell me, ‘Adam, it’s too small. The couch can hit the wall.’ I’d day, ‘Welcome to NYC!’ Ninety percent of the time that was the reason,” he says.

“He gave me a list,” says Yolanda. “Numbers of real estate offices and addresses to see buildings. Phone numbers of brokers and sometimes landlords. I think I was seeing an apartment three to four times a week. Every other day,” she says.

Earlier this summer, Yolanda heard back about the apartment she had her heart set on. “When they called me, I said, ‘This is the apartment I want. It’s beautiful, it’s nice, I saw myself living here. It suited me. It’s beautiful,” she says.

“They locked this down and they waited for me. They saved it for me. So I knew it was my apartment,” she adds.

Whereas Yolanda had a private bedroom and bathroom and communal kitchen at our St. John’s House, she now has a bedroom, living room, kitchen, and bathroom. She describes her new Bronx building as quiet, private, and nice.

She’s the first to admit that she needed to work on some personal issues before getting to this point. Through LSSNY, she was able to work with a therapist and case managers, to help out in her building, exercise, and cook healthy food. She stayed focused.

“Everything went so smoothly,” she says. “I told Adam that he was an angel, that he was the one God chose to help me. I did have my struggles when I was living there but those were my personal issues that I needed to fix. I had a goal and a dream to move out of there one day, to have an apartment again one day. I guess the Lord is on my side.”