One man’s struggle with mental disease leads to homelessness

Benjamin Joe, Reporter


Times haven’t always been easy for guys like Dan.

Dan – who asked that his last name not be used to protect his dignity – suffers from yearly bouts of pneumonia and is as skinny as a rail, not fit to work. He’s been in and out of boarding houses, trailers, the houses of relatives, even the City Mission and rehab. He’s dealt with homelessness and poverty, landing and losing jobs that paid little and demanded much.

His wife left him for his best friend.

Dan is 55 years old and graduated from high school in the suburbs of Rochester. His father was a truck driver who worked his way up from taking small runs around the state to become the East Coast director of his company. From an early age, Dan excelled in working with his hands. He took a night class to become a boiler engineer.

When he was 18, he was diagnosed with a mental disability. He did not let it stop him. He worked at an Exxon station fixing cars. He met his wife on an AAA service call.

Later on though, life didn’t pan out too well. He found himself homeless in the Southern Tier before moving to Buffalo. The Buffalo City Mission on East Tupper Street feeds him, and others like him, three meals every day and gives a safe refuge for the homeless each night. It runs largely on donations from individuals and corporations, according to its website,

It was a long time before Dan found the mission.

After his wife left him in 1991, Dan wandered from town to town.

He prefers to remember the day they met.

“She needed to have a battery changed,” he said. “I went back a couple days later, and asked her to go on a date with me, and she agreed.”

They dated for about a year and started living together in a trailer house near the Finger Lakes. Dan got a job at the company where his father worked and things went well for six years.

Then, the couple bought a house in downtown Rochester after they were married so his

wife could get to work. But, that’s when things went bad.

“She left me for my best friend,” he said.

Dan drifted, living with his sister for a few weeks, but that ended. He was also unemployed and drinking heavily. Eventually, he decided to go to rehab in Buffalo.

That was 20 years ago. Afterward, he said, he stayed “pretty much sober.”

During this time, Dan collected Social Security for his mental disability and received a Section 8 housing voucher which paid for a portion of his rent. He lived in a boarding house close to the intersection of Elmwood Avenue and Chippewa Street. Later, he moved to a studio apartment in Williamsville and worked as a dishwasher for a year.

“I lived on Delaware Avenue in a one-bedroom apartment for about 10 years, then I couldn’t keep it clean with my physical health and I moved out about a year ago,” he said.

During that time, he worked for a year as a janitor at the University at Buffalo, then worked for an Internet sales company where he repaired small appliances for sale. There were only two of them working there, but the company went out of business after only three years.

His physical health deteriorated. There was something wrong with his lungs and he was hospitalized twice. He’s had bouts of pneumonia every year for about five years.

Dan talked to his case manager about going to the Buffalo City Mission, and eventually into a group home. While everything wasn’t perfect, at least he had a plan. He felt everything was going to be alright. It was not.

“[My case manager] offered me a room at a boarding house and said it wouldn’t affect my paperwork, but it did,” Dan said. The landlord of the building owned several properties, and Dan lived in three of them until about a month ago. In one of them, his ceiling fell apart and there was heavy leakage of water, something detrimental to his health.

“[The landlord] took all the boarders out of there [at a condemned property] and got about six people living in a one bedroom house,” he said, “I lived there for a couple months then he transferred me to that house [with the leak].

“Finally, I got so stressed out, I got institutionalized for seven days and they re-did the paperwork. After that, I only had a seven-week wait for emergency housing. And that’s where I live now.”

Dan plans to live at the emergency housing unit for a couple more weeks, at which time he’ll be moved into a group home, which is a good thing because his health is a serious

concern. He said he likes the transitional house he’s living in now and is grateful for all the help he’s been given.

“People are real giving,” he said.

Even at his lowest, he found help from complete strangers, as well as workers in the system. He plans to quit smoking and maybe work as a dispatcher for a trucking business. He also says he’ll start learning about computers at a training center on Allen Street. In the meantime, his physical health is his main concern.

“I’ve learned a lot,” he said, “There’s problems everywhere. I’ve learned to stay real calm. I don’t want to get hurt.”

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