Meet United Way Community Hero Steve Hatter
Years ago, Steve Hatter was one of 51,000 homeless individuals struggling to survive on the streets of L.A. County. But thanks to two local UWGLA partners, he now has an apartment of his own and serves as a Resident Ambassador – sharing his journey from tragedy to triumph with others. Read on to learn more about Steve’s amazing life and meet him in person at our Sixth Annual HomeWalk this Saturday!
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m 53 years old and originally from Oklahoma. I graduated from Southwestern Oklahoma State University with a Bachelor’s in English and taught for a year as a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana.
Explain how you first became homeless and how it made you feel.
I was severely depressed but had no community resources to call upon. I couldn’t afford to pay my bills and eventually wound up living in a homeless shelter for 18 months. It made me feel worthless, like I wasn’t a part of society.
What was the real turning point in your life?
One day, I came across a Diet Coke can on the ground, spun it around and watched as it pointed west – twice. So I hitchhiked from Oklahoma City to Fountain Valley, California where I was stranded for two days. I reached a point where I realized I was probably better off dead so I swallowed my blood pressure pills thinking I’d simply fall asleep and never wake up. Luckily, someone nearby saw me collapse, called 911 and had me rushed to the ER.
How did you finally get the help you needed?
After the attempted suicide, I was placed in a mental health unit which connected me to two wonderful organizations funded by United Way of Greater L.A.: LAMP Community and Skid Row Housing Trust. LAMP provided me with social services and SRHT provided me with an apartment at the Abbey hotel.
Discuss the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced.
Losing my eyesight – I’d always been nearsighted but as the years passed, I began to lose my depth perception and started tripping all the time. I was referred to the Braille Institute where I learned orientation, mobility and how to move around safely using a cane. The whole experience actually gave me a shot of self-confidence; I realized this was something I could deal with and learn from.
Why did you decide to become an ambassador for Skid Row Housing Trust?
I wanted to contribute to society. SRHT’s ambassador program trains residents to become spokespeople for what they do and I now have a chance to share my experiences with others. What’s most often overlooked about homeless individuals are our skills, gifts and abilities – homelessness takes away so much of our humanity, forcing us to become nameless, faceless statistics. I like to think that my gift is having the ability to share my views as a SRHT resident as well as the language skills to articulate them.
What are your views on United Way’s Home for Good plan?
We waste a huge amount of resources trying to manage homelessness rather than end it. The Home for Good plan, however, proves that it makes far more economic sense to offer permanent supportive housing than to fund costly social services. Its “Housing First” approach is based on the idea that you don’t have to earn your right to have a home. Instead, homeless individuals are welcomed with open arms, housed and stabilized before addressing substance abuse and/or mental health issues. Once we end this vicious cycle – what I refer to as the “hamster wheel of homelessness” – then we can finally solve this problem once and for all!
What advice would you give to someone who’s currently homeless?
Be patient. There are a lot of good people out there working hard to change your life for the better. I understand that, as a homeless person, being on a waiting list is incredibly discouraging but please don’t lose hope. I was once in the same position and now, I can open the front door of my apartment and see all of my neighbors, a beautiful courtyard filled with bamboo trees and finally feel like I’m home.