Counting Her Blessings: MS Patient Assumes New Life, Housing Stability, Healthier Outlook

2017. A turbulent time for healthcare and other social services affected by the recent presidential election. Financial cuts in Planned Parenthood and PBS may disrupt access to birth control and public educational programs…which social sphere will be targeted next? Opposition to building or refurbishing new properties for the homeless and modest means communities— also known as NIMBY, or Not In My Backyard— separate populations by class and background. The relatively small population in favor of drawing a broad line between homeownership and assisted housing are misinformed of who and what affects property value; their efforts could indirectly affect housing and potential recipients of allocative services. People in need of affordable, safe housing could find themselves without an opportunity to receive housing assistance if there aren’t enough supporters to help make their dream a reality. Luckily, one determined woman with MS set out to make stability work for her, and she hopes the same for anyone else struggling.

Diana Hayes was a homeowner decades earlier when she realized her husband did not have the same outlook for the future or caregiving intentions for raising their son, James. She divorced her partner, took her son with her, and found a partner willing to work on a life together.

In spite of a new relationship, Diana was increasingly nervous and forgetful: symptoms of depression and an anxiety disorder. But she didn’t realize there was more to her behavior than psychological turmoil. Frustrated, Diana decided she didn’t want to live in Saugerties at The Mill anymore, and she wanted to be in Kingston where she felt more comfortable.

“So I got up and went to Kingston, and I had no idea where I was going but I ended up at my son’s house, Hayes recalls. “They put me in the hospital, because obviously I wasn’t thinking correctly, and I ended up in the psych ward. It was there that they realized I was taking four medicines for anxiety that were conflicting, and causing me to act up.”

The doctors explored her symptoms and discovered Multiple Sclerosis was the target stressor. Not good news. Although shaken during her intensive hospital visit, she mustered enough courage to re-evaluate her role in the world through a positive lens. “I’m not a person to be ashamed of what I’ve been through. Maybe there’s somebody out there that needs to hear this because they’re going through something similar and are looking down on themselves… Different things in this life happen to you. Everyone has different experiences, different ways that they deal with those experiences. It doesn’t make you a good or bad person. It’s choices you make that make you who you are today.”

Yet Diana didn’t know where she would end up after her hospital stay. While recovering from the crisis, she overheard another patient state a plan to go to Washington Manor after discharge. Unknowing of the institution, Diana told her doctors that’s where she wanted to go too.

Diana moved to Washington Manor and was fairly happy; she thought she was in communal residency, then an acquaintance told her that the manor was a homeless shelter. Diana was shocked. She knew she needed a place to get well, a home to manage her MS. A quick phone call to her partner Bobby, the truth was laid out, the couple reconciled.

Her husband’s emotional support was enough for Diana, but it didn’t bandage unpaid rent. Too many expenses added up and low income couldn’t cease the flow of bills. Foreclosure was near, and they needed another option, fast. The couple applied to apartment living in RUPCO’s Woodstock Commons in 2013, during the first wave of waitlist applications. Once accepted, the couple moved into a brand-new energy-efficient housing with amenities for the disabled. To complete the move, Bobby and Diana adopted Leo, a medium-sized, four-footed companion. New family, new house and more support, Diana and Bobby were set in a safe space with friendly neighbors, surrounded by nature and blocks away from the village.

Their new apartment at Woodstock Commons provided access to medical suppliers and grocery-store chains. Diana could manage her potentially life-threatening situation with emergency medical care close by. Equally important, she had community at her doorstep. She could walk outside and see children playing or strike up a conversation with neighbors. She is able to experience a wider and deeper approach to life, to appreciate grand gifts afforded by support services. “I love the different ages, different people who live here, all unique in their own way. I like to the gazebo, even though I’m not a smoker. I love to sit on the bench with Leo and watch the kids—it gives me great joy.”

Diana reflects on the intergenerational campus and the beauty around her. She’s thankful for the opportunity to appreciate what she is given, and wishes the world would take small steps towards humble living, to be in tune with priorities. “I didn’t realize before I got sick how blessed I was, and now I’m more blessed than ever. MS has taught me to appreciate things that are around me all day. I wasn’t living, I was just existing, because I wasn’t taking in any of the beauty that was around me. Now, it’s like, ‘Oh wow, the sun is shining, and look at the flowers and the bees’… I’m like a child.”

At RUPCO, we believe a trip to a psychiatric ward shouldn’t uproot a stable home life. A mental illness or physical disability (or both) shouldn’t keep someone from affording a safe, comfortable home. A sphere of health, happiness and well-being affects an individual and others close to them. Housing doesn’t just affect the one person directly involved, it is a communal experience that ripples out into the economic world and targets many people  through countless interactions. Helping people through assistance programs—like RUPCO—enable growth and productivity across the board, and lead to many happier, more stable lives.

Trauma Survivor Passes on Wisdom in Last Stages of Life

Up in the second floor of The Stuyvesant, a senior resident puffs away on a breathing machine for life support. He can’t get up and go downstairs without undue preparation. His hub table, covered with disordered rows of plastic medicine bottles, is a constant reminder of the assistance he needs to stay alive. But there are objects and pictures that are more life-giving than any pill or equipment. He’s cherished these since he was told the family secret of his heritage. Rockie Longendyke, or Black Horse, is a Mohawk Indian by blood and a survivor by nature. He’s crossed paths with police and alcoholism to the point of arrest and death. But when uncertain of where to ground himself or seek guidance, his saving grace is personal ancestry and religious beliefs. All are housed at The Stuyvesant.

Over 15 years ago, after a night of drinking, he woke up in a hospital in Troy and didn’t know where he was or how he got there. “I thought I died—actually did—and they brought me back.” He admits to previous relapses before, but none of them as terrifying. Longendyke promised himself he would do better and stay out of trouble from then on. After battling severe bouts of alcoholism, coming out of two failed marriages, and re-integrating life after serving in the Vietnam War, Rockie looked to start his new life and maintain a sense of peace.

He found hope in local Kingston. Longendyke had done work around The Stuyvesant as a maintenance technician and he knew living there would be the golden ticket to settling down in a low-key, stable environment. “I was eager to come here because I knew what was taking place here.” He hopes the same for anyone in similar situations, since he is too familiar with living in unsafe quarters with bad influencers. “For people who find themselves in a situation that they didn’t see in the future, and they end up with no job, no place to live—that’s what these places are for.”

Life isn’t always sunshine and roses, but there is no shame in getting help. “The fact is you go out there and you try to live life. You know, pick up the pieces and start over again.”

A spinal cord injury left him handicapped and further fragmented because social services would not allow him to work at all. To take on the next phase in life, he had to let go of a piece of his pride. He feared disappointing his children and shattering his image as a hard-working father, but his condition didn’t leave him many options. Alone, disabled, with time to reflect, he believed God kept saying, ‘You’re not listening to me; dude, I said no.”’ Longendyke sees his stubbornness, the pain and hard-won lessons as planned obstacles for him to overcome to prove God was by his side the whole time. “I think God made it happen,” Rockie admits, sure he is living in supportive housing with divine help.

Rocky may be the only one testifying for his ancestry. Centuries ago, at Kingston’s Old Dutch Church in Kingston moved his ancestor’s graves since they didn’t want evidence of Indian culture mixed in with Dutch. But they can’t change history. Hundreds of years ago, Dutch settlers mixed with Indians in order to have better access to the beaver country, which was profitable in the trade market. Longendyke is proof of interracial mixing, and many years of tension and stigma associated with power struggles are branded on his identity. Some of that pain might be what keeps him alive; without it, he may never have created beautiful beaded artwork or been motivated to empower change in his high-stakes lifestyle.

The remainders of handmade memorabilia and pictures that weren’t damaged by the flood hang from his walls and remind him of his heritage. One of his son’s art pieces scales a large portion of the wall, a blueprint-like picture of a ship which was referenced from books and research. He smiles, calling Tom a “genius,” that he was able to figure out visual information from just textbook knowledge. This is his “little boy,” who is 6’5” and weighs 300 lbs. Maybe not so little, but Longendyke’s face falls when he tells his son had a heart attack at 35. Longendyke blames himself and his tobacco addiction. “I’m going to rattle his cage,” he states, his voice twinged of guilt, and he wishes their relationship were like it used to be when they would often see each other. There are still things to work on despite age, and Rockie knows attaining wisdom is ceaseless.

Slivers of hope for a better future for his people, Rockie Longendyke may not venture out to spark activism, but he continues to hone his cultural experience and wear it as a badge of honor. His legacy will be shared by staff of RUPCO and hopefully his family, where most of his story will be passed down for generations to better understand throes of displacement and life after trauma. Whether things happened to him for a reason or not, his story is one to preserve and use as a resource for strengthening awareness of Native American strife, past and current. His story is a by-product of the miracle of supportive housing at The Stuyvesant and his ability to share his history from the place he calls Home.