“Everyone is a Few Paychecks from Being in My Shoes”
Pat A’s journey to becoming a tenant at LSSNY’s Muhlenberg Residence was not easy.
A divorced mother of three girls, she initially worked at NYU’s main hospital in New York City. Though she started out as a medical assistant, she wanted to become a physician assistant. NYU offered her some college classes. She continued to work while taking classes and taking care of her daughters.
It became overwhelming and she couldn’t finish college. But she became a surgical coordinator, a better position with more pay. After three years, she was hired to run an office for three plastic surgeons. She became very popular in the medical field. Pat was featured in three magazines as the number one surgical coordinator in New York City. Though she got offers left and right, she loved the surgeons she worked for, so she stayed.
Then one day she became sick and was hospitalized. Pat was diagnosed with a disease for which the only cure is a liver transplant. She was told she had one year to live. She became depressed and even more so when they found other issues requiring her to take medication. The medicine interfered with her job. “I was told I couldn’t work anymore!” she said. “I truly loved my job. You need to know I love helping people. Between that and thinking I was going to die, I was devastated. That was eight years ago and I’m still here! To be honest with you, it’s because of the caliber of doctors that I worked for as well as their colleagues. None of them took any insurance but they saw me as a professional courtesy. I’ve been seeing these doctors for seven years.”
When she was unable to continue working, she could no longer afford her condo. She was being evicted and had nowhere to go. The good news? Her best friend of 15 years, L., invited her to stay with her while she applied for social security disability. The bad news? Little items of Pat’s went missing, then her laptop. Everything came to a head when Pat and her daughter set off for a disability appointment. There was L., sleeping with Pat’s laptop on her stomach. L. alleged that the laptop belonged to someone else. They started to argue, L. stepped towards Pat holding a knife, Pat’s daughter wrestled it from her, and they called the police. L. was arrested and Pat was told she needed to leave that night.
She left much behind, packing bags of clothes and a TV into her car. The next three days she slept in her car until someone told her about a shelter.
“I had no idea what I was in for,” Pat said. “I would have to get permission every day to leave early to move my car. There was always parking on the block of the shelter, but I didn’t want anyone to know I had a car. I was in the shelter system for nine months. They knew how sick I was, but my caseworker was of no help. One day, she wasn’t there, and I was crying and speaking with a different caseworker. The women would always pick on me. This night, a woman who is gay slept in my room and told everyone she was going to turn me out. I didn’t know what to do. I was tired of fighting to survive.”
The case manager got on the phone and had Pat transferred that night to the Park Avenue Shelter. While it was a far improvement, Pat’s last job was just around the corner. She lived in terror of running into her former coworkers. “I was humiliated… embarrassed even,” she said. Then one day, during a fire drill, she was not allowed to move her car. “I turned around and saw that my car was being towed,” she said. “Everything I had was in that car! I couldn’t get it back because I didn’t have the money for it. Gone now was my car too.”
Then one day Pat was taken to LSSNY’s Muhlenberg Residence. Though she expected to find an apartment, she realized it was just a room. “I wasn’t happy about sharing a bathroom and kitchen but I was desperate to get out of the shelter,” Pat said. “I begged to get a chance to live there. I knew the neighborhood and thought it was perfect. I got a call the next day that I had been accepted.”
Her first year at Muhlenberg, Pat kept to herself. She was in a self-described deep depression. “I kept asking myself, ‘How did this happen to me? Why me?’” She no longer trusted anyone. She cried in her room every day. She was urged to see a therapist.
Pat started participating in the building’s activities and helping tenants with their medical conditions. She still had her medical bag and would listen to their lungs, take their blood pressure, and give them advice. After a while, she was asked to be the president of the tenant association. “I accepted and felt worthy again,” she said. Pat continued as president for several years.
Then her health started declining. She started to get depressed again. She resigned as president. LSSNY had hired some holistic case managers, and this is how Patricia became passionate about Reiki. She found she enjoyed it and became certified as a healing practitioner, becoming a Reiki master and teacher. In addition to the stipend LSSNY provided her while she was living in our housing, she was later hired by LSSNY as a paid Reiki consultant.
“It meant the world to me, especially when I started healing the tenants,” Pat said. “I felt good knowing that I was helping the residents feel better, if only during the session. I had a nice group of residents.” At the end of her classes, the tenants requested that she continue.
With hindsight comes 20/20. “The Muhlenberg in the end was a teaching experience for me,” says Pat. “It taught me not to judge. Everyone is a few paychecks from being in my shoes. The only thing I would pray for was to get back on my feet and have my own apartment again. Guess what, I’m writing this story to give you hope and tell you to never give up — from my own 1-bedroom apartment!!!”
Though Pat had given up many times, she had people in her life who cared enough to help her achieve her dream.
She credits the Muhlenberg Residence for her transformation.
While Pat did the legwork to find her beautiful apartment on her own, LSSNY first submitted her application to the Moving On Program, which provides sponsored candidates with a Housing Preservation and Development portable voucher, enabling them to move. “The HPD voucher program (was and) is technically closed so this was a huge opportunity,” says Rachel Bleecker.
“The moral of the story is, don’t judge people, for you don’t know how they got there,” says Pat. “The biggest thing I learned about myself is I’m no better than anyone else because I don’t know their struggles that got them there. Trust me, I never in a million years thought I would lose everything I worked hard for to not only lose it but lose myself as well!
She thanks Rachel Bleecker who believed in her, as well as the staff of the Muhlenberg and Lutheran Social Services of New York.
Pat plans to pay it forward. “If my story has helped you in any way, please ask to get in touch with me. I would love to help in any way I can,” she says.