Alfred Ricketts, 70, sits on a metal stool across from his Case Manager, Sabrina Burrell, in her tiny, rectangular-shaped office in the back of Georgetown Ministry Center (GMC). His hands are neatly folded in his lap and tufts of curly black hair, fringed with gray, peek from beneath his black baseball cap. He is dressed in a black T-shirt, gray cargo shorts and black woven sandals — all items purchased on a recent shopping trip. Alfred began coming to the Center regularly almost two years ago and since his first meeting with Sabrina, she’s seen him wear the exact same clothing every single day.
That is, until today.
Today, Alfred’s outfit is new, but it is perhaps the least of what he has to newly celebrate. The week prior, after a year’s worth of casework and advocating on his behalf, Sabrina presented Alfred with keys to his very own apartment: a place to call home after spending more than 40 years without one.
When asked how he felt upon receiving the keys to his new home, Alfred pauses, shakes his head in momentary bewilderment and says in a low, incredulous tone, “I was, like, in a state of shock. I didn’t think it would happen that quickly after being homeless so long.”
Forty years is a long time – half a lifetime for most, if we’re lucky. For Alfred, it’s been more than half a lifetime spent living in homeless shelters, subway cars and on street corners. Originally from New York, Alfred has faced mental and physical challenges since birth, including partial blindness in one of his eyes. These challenges have contributed to difficulties he’s had in retaining employment earlier in his life and they made him an easier target for predators once he found himself living on the streets as an adolescent.
While experiencing homelessness in New York, Alfred was robbed repeatedly and the city eventually became what he describes as “a nightmare.” During his time there, he says he did his best to “stay out of trouble,” continuously “praying to God” for protection. In 1985, after New York had become unbearable, he found his way to DC. It would be 26 more years – not until 2006 – that GMC’s street outreach team would first encounter him living on the streets of our nation’s capital. The meeting had been a long time coming, but it would prove to be a turning point in Alfred’s life.
Alfred began regularly coming to the Center in 2015, around the same time that Sabrina began working as a Case Manager. Both new to their respective Center roles that year – Sabrina as a service-provider and Alfred as a guest in need of service – they embarked on a series of “firsts” together.
“He was my trial-and-error child,” Sabrina says, referring to the challenges she faced as a then-novice Case Manager navigating bureaucratic systems to obtain Alfred’s birth certificate, ID, and social security benefits. “He’s like my baby. I went through it with him.”