A Chance to Support Each Other

“Sometimes I need support to get out. The Peer Empowerment Program helps with that and gaining friendship.”

It started with a potluck. At the beginning of this year, 30 nervous but excited Transitional Housing and Permanent Supportive Housing residents gathered to kick-off OSH’s new Peer Empowerment Program (PEP).

The program began as a way to help residents adjust to having their own home through peer mentorship and group social activities. Now three months in, PEP is going strong, and residents are seeing the difference–residents like Kevin and Roger.

Kevin first stayed at OSH Emergency Shelter in 2009. By the time he was housed in his very first apartment in January of 2012, Kevin had been in and out of homelessness for 15 years. After such a long time on the streets, transitioning into stable housing was not easy. “At first I was nervous,” Kevin says about moving into his apartment. “I never lived in my own place…it was kind of scary and different, [but I eventually] got used to it.” Kevin adds that it was the variety of resources he found with Permanent Supportive Housing that really helped.

That same kind of ongoing support is the reason Kevin joined PEP. The social aspect helps keep him active and provides positive outlets. “Sometimes I need support to get out. [PEP] helps with that and gaining friendship.”

The first big outing brought the group to the Science Museum (pictured above). Kevin was able to enjoy not only the exhibits but also the company of other PEP participants. Some he knew, but some were people he was meeting for the first time.

Outside of group activities, Kevin meets regularly with his PEP buddy, Roger. They listen to and encourage each other, providing friendly advice when they can. They also go places together, such as the library or grocery store–things that seem simple but require a major shift in thinking coming out of homelessness.

Roger’s story shares similarities with Kevin’s. Roger entered Permanent Supportive Housing just over two years ago, after stays with both OSH Emergency Shelter and Transitional Housing. After 30 years in and out of homelessness, his transition into housing was even more difficult. He’s still getting comfortable with the furniture in his apartment, including his bed. He also explains, “Shelters are always busy, never quiet, and you get used to it. The quiet [of my apartment] was unsettling at first.”

For Roger, PEP is a safe and comfortable environment where he can connect with people that have similar experiences. When he hangs out with Kevin and other participants, Roger feels like he has, “somebody I don’t have to explain myself to.” Instead, he can focus on enjoying the activities.

Both Kevin and Roger are looking forward to PEP continuing and the fun of summer! A picnic is in the works, as well as plans for some bike riding, and maybe even a fishing trip.