Finally finding a home – NYC Health + Hospitals

Through NYC Health + Hospitals, Jesus received treatment for mental illness and found an apartment through the Housing for Health program.

Shortly after immigrating from the Dominican Republic to the United States with his father, Jesus Cerda found himself homeless and alone at the age of 16.

Over the next decade, Cerda struggled alone and began to struggle with the symptoms of mental illness. He stayed sporadically with relatives and even lived in a car for a week before moving to various shelters in New York.

But thanks to the Housing for Health program at NYC Health + Hospitals, Cerda, now 27, has his own home, a Queens studio in a former tuberculosis hospital that has been converted into 200 apartments.

“When I moved here, I felt a sense of relief,” Cerda said. I felt like I had won something really good to appreciate. I was happy and excited.”

Serda is one of more than 1,000 patients served by the Housing for Health program. The initiative connects homeless patients with affordable homes to improve their health and well-being.

As of January 2020, over 800 patients are placed on respite beds and over 400 patients are placed in permanent housing.

Before moving into his apartment, Cerda lived in eight different shelters over five years. While living in a shelter in Harlem, he couldn’t sleep for a month due to constant noise from the residents playing video games all night.

Cerda’s sleep deprivation exacerbated his schizoaffective disorder, an illness he had previously been diagnosed with and includes symptoms of schizophrenia and mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder.

“He was going through a lot of social stressors and he was in a shelter and he didn’t have a good support system,” said Dr. Kelania Jimenez, Cerda’s psychiatrist at NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem.

Dr. Ryan Hashem, chief of behavioral health at Harlem, likened Serda’s condition to staying up too late at night and being startled by a noise, but having that feeling constantly every day.

“Imagine that patient in a shelter in that stressful environment,” Dr. Hashem said. “For a patient in that demographic, it’s almost impossible.”

Serda felt worried and started hearing voices and feeling paranoid. He was then admitted to the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program in Harlem, where he was observed and treated. Today, Cerda manages her condition with medication and monthly visits to Dr. Jimenez

Around the same time, Cerda began working with the Housing Task Force of his insurance provider, MetroPlusHealth. This team helps MetroPlusHealth members who live in shelters like Cerda access housing and community resources to improve their quality of life and reduce emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

In Cerda’s case, the task force helped him in the process of securing his apartment, which he moved into in July 2022. Since then, the home has transformed his life.

“Mentally, I’m calmer and it’s brought me inner peace,” said Cerda, now a few months into his apartment. “Because of what I’ve been through, I feel like a king. I feel good.”

Since moving in, Cerda has been making her apartment more like a home, buying new furniture, decorating, creating a small studio, and enjoying simple everyday activities like being able to drink cold water and having the ability to just sit and relax.

“He is so happy to have his own space where he can study in peace,” said Dr. Jimenez. “He feels safe there and can be independent.”

While living at the shelter, Cerda earned an associate’s degree in animation and motion graphics, an impressive feat since he wasn’t allowed to have a desk or chair. Today, his gaming chair has become one of his prized possessions.

“Jesus is hitting his goals and coming in for outpatient checkups once a month like any other human being does for cholesterol,” Dr. Hashem said. “That’s the difference housing made for him, apart from what we did.”

Now living comfortably, Cerda is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in studio art and hopes to land a job at a comic book company.

“I can cook my own food, I can wake up at any time, I can listen to music,” Cerda said. “I don’t have to worry about privacy. It’s just something I didn’t have.”

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