Burney’s road to recovery from life on the streets

Burney’s road to recovery from life on the streets
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by Steve Palackdharry

Though he cannot afford a car of his own as he rebuilds his life, Burney Cochran works as a delivery driver.

Every weekday he takes the long bus rides between his apartment in southwest Detroit and Wolverine Solutions Group on the east side. Working for Wolverine, Burney drives about 90 miles on his shift, picking up bulk mail from different companies and running other errands. Burney is a careful driver, unperturbed by the drivers who are less respectful about sharing the road.

“It doesn’t bother me because I stay in my lane,” Burney, 54, says. “I like being by myself in the van and getting where I need to go to get the job done.”

Burney’s journey to this place in life – where he has stable housing, steady work, and peace of mind – has been one of overcoming difficult detours. Five years ago, he was living on the streets and sleeping in shelters. He had been homeless for several years, after losing his job at an auto supply manufacturer when the plant closed during the recession and the auto industry crisis. Unable to find other work, complicated by a felony conviction when he was 21 that resulted in ten years in prison, he became depressed and homeless.

While he was on the streets, Burney met Southwest Solutions’ homeless outreach team from our Housing Resource Center (HRC). The HRC is devoted to helping individuals and families experiencing homelessness or at-risk of homelessness. HRC staff secured a housing voucher for Burney, and he moved into his current apartment in March 2013.

Burney was assigned a supportive housing caseworker, Bridget Wright, who visits him monthly at the unit to support his recovery and his efforts to maintain his housing. Burney receives mental health services at our Waterman Outpatient Clinic.

Burney Cochran

At the Waterman Clinic, Burney decided to enroll in our IPS-Supported Employment program, which provides numerous services to help individuals recovering from mental illness find work. Burney worked with Employment Specialist Manuel Partida who helped Burney with his resume, interview skills, and job searches. The program also assists participants with their transportation, legal, personal appearance (clothing, shoes, and grooming), and other needs.

“I’ve worked my whole life and working is important to me,” Burney says. “I wanted to get a job as a machine operator or a driver, and I’m happy that the opportunity at Wolverine came along.”

Burney has been at Wolverine since last April. He is one of 59 participants in our IPS-Supported Employment program who acquired jobs last year. Southwest Solutions has offered the program since 2007.

“The foundation of the program is that work can promote recovery and wellness,” says Barbara Gray, who oversees the program. “For some it could be a sense of being like everyone else in his or her family, for others it may mean more effectively managing symptoms enough to feel in control, for some clients it could allow them to break out of social isolation and for all, it allows them to become a little more financially stable.”

The IPS-Supported Employment program is funded through Medicaid billing. It is an evidence-based practice initiated by the Dartmouth Psychiatric Research Center at Dartmouth College.

Steve Palackdharry is director of communications at Southwest Solutions.

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