Putting the Pieces Back Together

Freddie Corwin’s earlier life was all about putting the puzzle pieces together in order to create a greater whole. As an IT and database systems analyst, he traveled the country developing the infrastructure that kept his company afloat. It was good work, important work, and most importantly, it supported his family.

But just under a decade ago, one unchecked hiccup in his health swept all of that away. On his long plane rides to and from offices, Freddie began to hear voices that weren’t there. It became more and more difficult to focus, and his once-famous attention to detail began to slip. Soon he wasn’t able to interact with colleagues as he once did.

Freddie lost that job. He lost that good, important work that supported him and his family. The loss of his job and his declining mental health caused Freddie to feel a shame that he wasn’t able to address. It was a lonely space, an unhealthy space. Freddie began shutting himself off from his friends and family – and soon enough found himself on the streets of Chicago.

It wasn’t until a few years later, when a police officer found him confused and incoherent in the middle of a south-side street that he was offered the opportunity to begin healing. With the help of Heartland Alliance, he began the long journey to put the pieces of his life back together.

The first puzzle piece?

“My mental health. I first learned about Heartland Alliance because of Heartland Health Outreach – and was very quickly introduced to a therapist. We began meeting once a month, and I was put on several medications.”

It turned out Freddie had been dealing with a combination of Schizophrenia and Bi-Polar disorder. His doctors soon found the right points to focus on, and the voices Freddie once heard began to mute. As the fog of his mental illness cleared, Freddie began to see a path forward.

“Just being able to recognize your own shortcomings and figure out ways to work through them – it was a blessing. Now I have control of my life.”

Freddie’s continued work on his mental health was just the first step to his recovery. Heartland Health Outreach worked hard to ensure he was receiving his benefits, connecting him with Medicaid and Social Security until he could get back on his feet with a job and income. But without a safe place to store his medication – and lay his head – Freddie was still in a very dangerous place in terms of his recovery. HHO referred Freddie to Heartland Human Care Services – a Heartland Alliance company – who worked to find him an affordable apartment. HHCS also worked closely with Freddie to help make ends meet via one of their transitional jobs programs.

Freddie is part of a workforce development program that helps him break a sweat, earn some money, train for new opportunities, and interact with people again. Chicago FarmWorks gives participants a chance to work on an urban farm twice a week planting, tending, harvesting and distributing over 30,000 servings of fresh, healthy produce every year.

“You know, my grandparents had a farm. I remember it was hard work, and this ain’t any easier!” Freddie said with a laugh.

Besides getting a chance to connect with his roots, the FarmWorks program provides him a chance to meet with case managers and job developers twice a week. Freddie has been re-acquainting himself with temporary jobs across the city, most recently with the Greater Chicago Food Depository as a warehouse worker. Freddie intends to build his confidence in social situations a bit more before he finds himself a more permanent job, perhaps as a cashier.

 “You know, I’d like to do something that gives me a chance to use a computer again – but something that also keeps me around people a little bit.”

Freddie has come a long way from where he was the day he first came to Heartland Alliance. He is a man with a home now. A man with better health now.  A man with a pathway to employment now. He receives mental health checkups every month, and is working closely with Heartland Alliance dentists to better his overall health. Inching ever closer to independence, he’s growing into a healthy, self-sufficient man again.

But nothing is quite as satisfying as the work he’s done for himself – as he is once again a family man. Over the past six months, Freddie has reconnected with his own parents – and his son, who now has a 6-year-old daughter of his own.

“She actually stays at my house once a month. It’s a really nice situation, I’m a grandad.”

Freddie’s work isn’t done yet, but as he continues to work with Heartland Alliance in piecing the puzzle back together, he’s confident that he’ll once again feel whole.

“I feel I’m blessed. A lot of people don’t find housing after being homeless so long. And now I get to reconnect with my family. It’s so good to know they still love me.”