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Homeless 'Gypsy' Found Sleeping in Dirt Hole Is a Living Transformation 1 Year Later

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For decades, there has been a lot written about the problem of homelessness. There have been exposés, charitable endeavors, and legislation proposed and passed all geared at delving into the causes and cures.

In Hawaii, the Institute for Human Services (IHS) instituted a “Street Medicine” program in January 2017 that, according to the website, is essentially an “outreach team.”

This team is all about helping “a group of chronic homeless individuals suffering from mental illnesses with gaining access to new treatment medication and housing, ending their homelessness 20-30 years later.”

A special feature created by Hawaii News Now (HNN) titled “Prescribing Hope” took a look at the program and told the story of a participant in the program named Donna Abordo.

With her consent, Abordo was given a “long-acting injectable medication” by the street medicine team for her decades-long untreated schizophrenia, according to an HNN follow-up report.

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When they found her, the “gypsy” had been living in a hole. Apparently, Abordo had dug out the dirt hole herself. It was located behind a bus station.

From there, an IHS specialist worked closely with her in order to help her relearn basic skills. Those skills including things such as being able to “shop for herself, keep a clean house and manage her finances.”

It may sound odd to need to reteach people how to do those things, but there is a reason that kind of help is needed.

IHS executive director Connie Mitchell explained, “You have to realize that when people are not medicated for a long time there is brain cell loss. It takes time for people to recover a lot of their abilities.”

Another large component of the program is making sure the participants remain on their medication, which means a member of the Street Medicine team makes monthly house calls to check in on them.

Abordo has been fully cooperative and invested in the program, stating that she’s been keeping her Safe Haven appointments and working with a peer coach.

Within four months of beginning the program, Abordo was able to move into her own apartment. A year after she started the program, the transformation is miraculous and astonishing.

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The 60-year-old woman had spent more than 25 years of her life living on the streets. Her gratitude for the second chance is clear, “It’s nice being indoors. It did wonders for me. Everything changed.”

Dr. Chad Koyaagi of the IHS Street Medicine team and the person who has been personally checking in on Abordo also remarked on her success.

“She came from a place of essentially being untreated with psychosis for 20 or 30 years,” said Dr. Koyaagi. “The fact that she’s gone from how she was a year ago to living in her own apartment is fairly miraculous.”

The IHS website notes that it is “the oldest, largest, and most comprehensive human services agency focused exclusively on ending and preventing homelessness in Hawaii.”

In 2016 their services resulted in 1,654 people obtaining housing, 1,750 receiving shelter, 781 gaining employment and 278,964 meals being served to those in need.

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