Six years ago John arrived at our program, newly in recovery, and with a complicated mix of life-threatening medical problems and 27 severely decayed teeth. Today, thanks to his BHCHP caregivers, his chronic illnesses are expertly managed, he is receiving ongoing treatment for his depression and anxiety and he smiles easily thanks to Bessy and the rest of the BHCHP Dental Team. “For years, I wouldn’t smile because my teeth were rotten and broken,” says John. “I love to smile, so I couldn’t be me.”
John’s shared his story of becoming homeless: starting as a social drinker “to fit in”, the grip of alcohol addiction eventually robbed him of his beloved family, his health and his livelihood—in his case as a hardworking truck driver for 25 years. John had tried countless times to address his recovery, but was unable to do it on his own. He eventually became homeless and living in shelters. It was in shelter that he first came to one of BHCHP’s clinics where John received the care he needed. In addition, our dental clinic removed his numerous decayed teeth and he recuperated at our Barbara McInnis House respite program.
John recalls anguished nights when he would sleep on a park bench, awakening to the morning hustle and bustle of a world he no longer felt part of. “I felt hopeless, useless, embarrassed,” he says. “I didn't want anyone to see me, not that they would have recognized me. I had no teeth and long hair. This person wasn't me.”
It was the thought of his young children growing up without a father that helped spur him to action six years ago. He regretted that his own father, who also struggled with alcoholism, had been in and out of his childhood years. “They say ‘do it for yourself,’ but my kids were my motivation,” says John. “I love them more than anything.” For John, since that moment of clarity, he has been rebuilding his life through the support of family and friends, Alcoholics Anonymous and Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program.
From the moment John arrived at our clinic, our staff knew just what to do and kicked into action. They helped him apply for and secure MassHealth insurance and connected him with a primary care provider. John also began to see a BHCHP psychiatrist and a therapist to address his psychiatric needs, which in turn has helped him maintain his recovery. Finally, after years of neglecting his teeth—a low priority due to so many competing needs—John was encouraged by our staff to get fitted with dentures. He developed a warm relationship with Bessy Wrights, dental assistant in our dental clinic. “Bessy is so kind and efficient and professional, just like everyone in the dental clinic. She shines up the day,” says John.
According to Bessy, “When John would come to his dental appointments, he felt well-cared for and most importantly, not judged. He was so appreciative of the support and quality of care that he was getting. He was always eager to come back.”
John feels fortunate for the care he receives at BHCHP. “Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program is a place where you can go for everything you need to be healthy in your body and mind,” says John. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Today, John loves spending regular time with his children—building LEGO® structures with his 10-year-old son and clothes shopping with his 14-year-old daughter. He lives in an apartment in Dorchester and works three jobs—as a certified substance use disorder counselor at two halfway houses and as a full-time case manager at a transitional program for people moving out of homelessness. “Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program changes lives,” says John. “It changed mine and I am forever grateful.”
Our ability to care for the minds, bodies and spirits of patients like John—in an integrated and compassionate way—is what makes BHCHP so unique. Your support makes this type of care possible. John and thousands of patients like him thank you for enabling us to transform their lives.