Andrew: The Collector

Take a moment to imagine the following scenario: 20 years of carrying all of your belongings in a bag that must fit on your person for fear of being stolen; 20 years of making an income off the streets; 20 upstate New York winters to survive; 7,300 days without substantial human contact; 20 years of back alleyways, abandoned cars, park benches and vacant houses.
20 years. That’s how long Andrew was chronically homeless before he became a resident at Bethesda House.

Little is known of Andrew’s younger life. His mother was 15 years old when he was born. He left Virginia when he was 20 years old to come to Schenectady. Once here, he joined the Air Force however did not complete his tour due to health reasons. Andrew displayed signs of mental illness, his instability quickly progressed which resulted in lost job opportunities and homelessness.

A guest of Bethesda House for many years, Andrew would come in for a hot meal and a cup of coffee but ask for nothing else. He spoke to no one and his conversations with staff were minimal. Until one day in 2010 when Andrew decided he wanted to turn his life around and entered Bethesda House’s permanent supportive housing program.

Andrew came to Bethesda House with virtually nothing except the clothes on his back and the ideas in his head for a book he had been writing. Andrew collected papers, he said the papers were research and helped him to keep his thoughts organized. For months, it was a struggle to get Andrew to clean up the paper clutter in his room. Eventually, the clutter spread beyond the papers until Andrew’s room became a safety concern. The Residential / Case Management Team met with Andrew but in spite of creating service plans and working with him to accomplish his goals, his hoarding did not diminish.

One day seemingly out of the blue, he met with his case manager looking distraught. Andrew who has severe social anxiety and will go to lengths to avoid people who, after a year of living at Bethesda House, opened up about his fear of giving up material items. After being homeless with no personal possessions for so long, the idea of throwing things away made Andrew sick to his stomach. He insisted that he wanted to change and he wanted to keep his room clean.

Andrew continues to show self-determination. He exercises every day; his 6’1” fame is imposing and intimidating, he is strong and avoids confrontation and is usually seen reading a novel or a newspaper. He’s fluent in French (although we’re not sure where or when he was exposed to foreign languages) and has refrained from many invitations to fight with Schenectady residents. Andrew is not an aggressive person and continues to remain passive when confronted.

The Residential team works with Andrew regularly. He doesn’t ask for much – just enough to pay his rent and buy his favorite CDs through our Representative Payee (financial management) program. His mental illness often makes it difficult for him to follow the rules; our case managers believe he would benefit greatly from medication. But for Andrew, all he needs are his headphones, his bike, and his exercise weights to get him through the day.