In a matter of months a series of unexpected life-changing moments can turn your life upside down. For Johnny from Milwaukee, that first moment came with the sudden death of his wife Carrie.

“We were married for 30 years, “Johnny recalled with a smile, “We didn’t have children, but we had each other.” Still grieving from his loss, Johnny decided to make a fresh start by finding a new place to live.

“It was really hard for me to go in and out of our apartment,” he said. “I really did try to stay there after she was gone but it was too hard. She was always there when I walked through the door, and now, she wasn’t.”

Johnny put a security deposit down on a new apartment, and gave his 30-day notice to his landlord. However, when the time came to move, Johnny’s new place wasn’t ready and his new landlord skipped town. Suddenly Johnny had no place to live.

He had heard about the United Way-funded emergency shelter program at Guest House of Milwaukee and decided to check it out.

“I told them I just needed a place to stay for a couple of weeks to get back on my feet,” said Johnny.

He was introduced to a case manager and set up in the 90-day GATES program, which is designed for individuals who don’t have any additional barriers such as addiction, incarceration or mental health. They just need a place to stay until they can find a new place to live.

Johnny still remembers the moment he saw the large room, the rows of mismatched blankets on the beds, and the bottom bunk he’d be sleeping in for the next 3 months.

“I had lived in the same place with one woman for 30 years, and suddenly I was living with 60 men I didn’t know,” said Johnny. “I was grateful of course, but also embarrassed I was here.” It was at that moment, Johnny realized he would do what needed to be done for the next three months so he could be on his own again.

He was introduced to Claire Shanahan, a housing advocate at Guest House, for help to search for a new apartment.

“She would call me and say ‘Johnny I got a place for you to go look at‘,” he said.

When he wasn’t out looking for apartments, Johnny passed the time doing chores at the shelter or playing a game of cards with other residents.

By the end of his three month stay, Johnny moved into his new home. He has been living on his own now for almost two years.

“Thanks to United Way’s support, our shelter programs are able to meet clients where they are, learn their goals, and work together to achieve them,” says Cindy Krahenbuhl, Executive Director at The Guest House of Milwaukee.

In 2014-2015 94% participants in emergency shelter programs set personal goals toward self-improvement and 84% made progress towards those goals.

“United Way is not a short-term investment; it’s about lasting change,” said Shannon Reed, United Way Financial Stability Portfolio Manager. “The complexity of Johnny’s situation could have caused him to give up, but thanks to United Way’s support he had a reason not to. We didn’t just provide him with a warm bed or a free meal, we helped him address the root causes of his issue and therefore overcome homelessness."

Today Johnny couldn’t be more proud of his new apartment and how he was able to quickly turn his life around. He is grateful to Guest House and United Way for helping him move in. He also tells his story to motivate other clients at Guest House to stay the course, no matter what may happen.

“I tell everyone that if you are down on your luck, the Guest House is the place to come,” said Johnny. “It was truly a blessing at a moment in my life when I needed to find shelter and hope.”

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