New York, NY – Last week, we introduced part one of my short series on homelessness in New York City. For this week’s entry, however, I reached across the George Washington Bridge to fellow mental health professional, friend and mentor, Mr. Anthony Greene. As an advocate, Greene was open to discussing his own experience grappling with homelessness and alcohol abuse disorder, as well as becoming incarcerated before finally finding the help he needed to change his life.
My connection with Mr. Greene started with a simple introduction. We met while I was working as a recovery specialist at an opiate overdose recovery program. I was still working a full-time job during the day, but scheduled for hospital deployments a few nights a week across northern New Jersey.
My deployments followed 911 emergency calls of an overdose. It’s safe to say that I saw people from every background. There were people from all walks of life, rich, poor, white, Black, Latin-American, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and otherwise. I met with people who identified as male and female, trans and more. Regardless of their differences and no matter where the patients came from, there was a common bond to our meeting. They all had overdosed and almost died.
Each day, my social understanding opened a little wider. My social views were changing. Each experience taught me more about the world outside my narrow view. I was given an education that no classroom could ever teach me. But more importantly, I was finding ways to give back and help others help themselves.
At one point, I was invited to speak at a shelter as a specialist and person in recovery. In all fairness, I had never been to a homeless shelter before. I had no idea what to expect or what a shelter would look like. Safe to say, I pictured what stigma taught me to believe a homeless shelter would look like.
My intention was to talk about my journey and the work I was doing in the recovery field. But in no way did I realize how much my journey was about to change.
I would like the record to show that I saw people from all cultures and backgrounds. These were people with many differences, and yet, they shared one commonality — a need for housing.
It was at this point that I learned how the mind can be truly limited by trained opinions and assumptions. None of what I expected to see was accurate. The shelter was safe, clean, brightly lit and run by a caring staff with the intention to effectively put an end to homelessness. In a word, I was humbled.
I was given the opportunity to run a special empowerment group on Sunday mornings. We called it “Breakfast with Benny.” It was here that I learned more about myself, my goals and the direction I wanted to pursue. It was also here I was given the chance to be on radio station 89.1 WFDU. This is where I met Anthony Greene.
Greene is a native of Greenville, South Carolina. He is also a veteran who was homeless for one year until he found himself in jail. However, Greene took advantage of the Drug Rehabilitation Center Program [DRC].
The program helped Greene enter the shelter. It was a big adjustment at first. He was around strangers and felt uncomfortable. But his outgoing personality helped him fit in. “The staff took to me,” Greene said. “I was dedicated and motivated to get my life back together.”
As a veteran, Greene was connected to the V.A., which helped him get into college. He went from jail, to the shelter and then to eventual housing. He admits, however, that part of his story is about relapse. Greene struggled with the ideas of his family, the time he had lost and the wreckage of his past. He even disclosed that after a moment of public intoxication, he found himself back in treatment at the DRC. But he was determined to recover. With his veteran’s benefits and the assistance of other caring people, Greene was able to work hard and finish his college education.
These days, Anthony Greene hosts a radio show and is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor at Transition Professionals in Hackensack, New Jersey. He has not only changed his own life, he has changed the lives of countless others — including mine.
“I want to give back,” says Greene. “But the biggest challenge is to see people who struggle the same way that I did. It’s hard to watch them refuse treatment and choose the streets.”
Greene is a true hero. He is an advocate for those who cannot help themselves. He is a friend, a true spirit of hope, and a teacher who destroys the limitations of stigma.
I suppose the most overlooked fact is that we are all people. Race, religion, orientation and creed aside, we all have lives. We all have a history, a background, and a story. Greene’s is only one story but there are more to tell. Unfortunately, not everyone accepts the hand that looks to help them. Not everyone chooses to get help and not everyone survives. But these are stories for the weeks to come. Stay tuned.
Ben Kimmel is a proud member of the IUOE Local 94, as well as an Author, Writer on thewrittenaddiction.com, Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Well-being and DEI Content Provider, Certified Addiction and Recovery Coach, Certified Professional Life Coach, and Peer & Wellness Advocate. Ben can be reached at email@example.com