Joseph Arthur Hardy was slim, well-dressed and smiled with a new set of teeth as he spoke at the October 2014 Homeless Summit in Salt Lake City.
He had been placed in an apartment that April under Utah’s Housing First program and was something of a poster boy for the effort to end chronic homelessness. He had gotten counseling and substance abuse treatment, and he was sober.
“I want to live,” Hardy told a rapt audience in his optimistic keynote speech.
Today, he’s homeless — again.
Now 48, Hardy is heavier, his teeth are missing and his eyes carry a deep sadness. He relapsed after more than two years of sobriety, beginning a 14-month run of trauma, death and drugs. In February, he was arrested with a large amount of methamphetamine and some heroin.
Recently released from jail, he’s back on the streets seeking shelter, medical care and a future. This time, the Housing First program — also known as permanent supportive housing — cannot help him. He lost his eligibility after 90 days in jail.
Inmates are not considered homeless by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). So the months he spent incarcerated don’t count toward the Housing First criteria for being considered chronically homeless — defined as going 12 months without a home or becoming homeless four times over a three-year period.
Still, he pushes through each day, making appointments with Adult Probation and Parole, The Road Home, Valley Mental Health, the Fourth Street Clinic and others.
“Right now, I’m under a lot of stress,” he said. “Something has changed. They told me I don’t qualify for housing.”
Hardy said he can’t stand to live at the shelter for a year — he says it’s not sanitary or safe. And he doesn’t understand how jail qualifies as a home.
His story reveals how difficult ending chronic homelessness can be — particularly for people suffering from addiction. Social workers say that overcoming it requires treatment and a system that includes food and shelter, along with emotional and social support.
The brains of substance abusers have been conditioned to use drugs and alcohol, especially in times of stress, explained Mary Jo McMillen of the nonprofit Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness (USARA). If they don’t have a place to live or know where their next meal is coming from, the urge to relapse is overwhelming.
“Their resilience is worn down,” she said. “The brain says, ‘You’re suffering, you need relief.’”
Utah’s Housing First effort, launched in 2005, recognizes that reality. Previous programs demanded people get sober and find jobs to qualify for housing. Housing First provides the chronically homeless with an apartment and a case manager to help them overcome addiction, mental health issues and other barriers.
Many Housing First clients suffer from mental health or addiction issues, officials said. A few have physical disabilities. But exact numbers are not readily available.
Although Housing First has been in place for more than a decade, officials don’t track how many clients stay in its housing, how many eventually move into other places on their own, or how many — like Hardy — drop out.
‘Everything I need’
Hardy and his three siblings spent their childhood on the run with their mother, who had fled their polygamous father and his clan. They camped, crashed with friends or found a cheap rental when they could.
“I feel like I grew up in the back seat of a car,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune in 2014.
By age 15, he was using methamphetamine to dull his anxiety and depression. Through the years, drug use ravaged his health.
In his mid-20s, after learning he had contracted hepatitis B and C, he injected a large dose of heroin. Suicidal, he leaped between two moving train cars at a rail yard. His leg was almost torn off, but surgeons ultimately saved it. The injury still keeps him from jobs that require standing or a lot of walking.
Hardy cycled in and out of jail, spending a total of about 18 years behind bars, and continued to suffer from anxiety, depression and addiction. But, in 2012, he jumped at the chance to go through rehab and get an apartment through Housing First.
He furnished it by driving around Salt Lake City, picking up items residents had put to the curb, including a flat-screen TV that he was able to fix. He had a new girlfriend who had children in their late teens and early 20s. Two of her daughters would hang out at the apartment and the foursome would play cards and other games and laugh.
His leg injury often prevents him from putting in an eight-hour day, but Hardy, a mechanic, was working part time at an auto shop. He continued to get addiction treatment through CORE (Co-Occurring Re-entry and Empowerment) at Valley Mental Health.
A Tribune video on YouTube shows a beaming Hardy saying, “I don’t have everything I want, but I have everything I need.”
‘I let everyone down’
Hardy’s relationship with his girlfriend was already fracturing when she relapsed in 2015. He felt like he was carrying the weight of the world for both of them.
“She’s good,” he remembers thinking. “But she’s just not good for me.”
In November 2015, doctors informed him that his liver was beginning to fail. He was put on a waiting list for a transplant. It was all too much — he freaked out.
“My life fell apart,” he said, “and I started using crystal meth.”
Patrick Rezac, who founded One Voice Recovery to distribute clean syringes and guide addicts to treatment, said a relapse can be emotionally crushing.
“Especially when you have a rough history and then you’re doing well — when you have a relapse, it’s devastating,” said Rezac, a former intravenous drug user “That’s when you feel like a loser and doubt you can recover.”
Hardy recalls trying to keep up with his responsibilities, but things were slipping. “People say they are going to be a functional addict,” he said. “But there is no such thing as a functional addict.”
He remembers admitting to his housing manager and his therapist that he had started using meth again. The housing manager began to put distance between them, Hardy said, with a note of frustration. His therapist at Valley Mental Health continued to work with him, he said, “above and beyond” what she was required to do, until he stopped going to appointments.
Eventually, he began selling drugs to make money and to feed his habit. At that point, he was haunted by guilt and shame.
“I couldn’t go to people for help,” he said. “I let everyone down.”
In February 2016, his girlfriend’s sister was found dead in a lot west of downtown Salt Lake City. Hardy said police told him she had succumbed to exposure. They had questioned him as part of their investigation, and that was the final straw for his relationship with his girlfriend.
He kept using and selling drugs and, day by day, the year slipped away.
‘I don’t have a choice’
On New Year’s Eve last year, Hardy was partying with his 28-year-old son, Randy. Hardy said he sold him some heroin.
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” he said. “The way I viewed it was, if he’s going to do it, I’d rather he do it around me. There is a lot of bad dope out there.”
Two days later, Randy was killed when he crashed his car in Iron County near Enoch. Hardy blames himself.
“I felt responsible for my son’s death,” he said. “I hit a point in my life where I didn’t care anymore. I gave up. I went off the edge.”
He ratcheted up his drug dealing and use and, as a result, lost the lease on his apartment. Before his February arrest, he was living in the laundry room of a motel near downtown.
No one looks forward to jail time. But it can be easier than life on the street, Hardy said, and something of a relief after the struggle each day just to get by.
Now he’s out, and the challenges look daunting.
The Housing First approach saves taxpayers money, according to Utah Division of Housing and Community Development officials. Although it can be difficult to quantify, studies have found it is significantly less expensive to house a person, compared to funding services often used by homeless people, including emergency-room visits and jail stays.
Still, service providers say that it’s difficult for long-term substance abusers who are in and out of jail to break the cycle. Once released, they are back on the streets, where drugs are prevalent.
McMillen of USARA said people such as Hardy need help immediately after leaving jail.
“People have an expectation that [addicts] should know better,” she said. “But they really need a lot of support to achieve a stable life.”
Hardy is one of many trying to make it in a system overburdened by sheer numbers. They are homeless and in need of mental-health care or treatment for addiction.
“It’s overwhelming,” Hardy said of his first weeks of freedom. “But I don’t have a choice. I can’t just lay down and die.”