Since October 2018, Isaac Canady, a local artist, has been creating his pointillist artwork from the comfort of his home. For the 20 years prior, most of his artwork was done in a local coffee shop – because he didn’t have a home.
Ironically, Isaac worked at Columbus House in its infancy when we were still on Columbus Avenue. He spent six years helping people experiencing the very issue that would soon consume his life. “On my way to work I used to try to haul people into the shelter…I just couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t come in – I couldn’t wrap my head around it.” So how did Isaac fall into homelessness himself? As a child he played musical instruments and attended a prestigious dance school, was a social services employee in his twenties, and a husband and father in his early thirties. A history of trauma that began in his youth and was suppressed for decades began to surface around the time his own child was born. He was experiencing extreme mental distress and was self-medicating to cope. He checked himself into a three-month program and began to feel better, but his life crumbled when he got home. He divorced, his substance use disorder returned, and he found himself out on the very streets he had tried to save people from.
In 2004, while living on the streets, a degenerative spine disorder required Isaac to undergo surgery. “They tried to discharge me in below-zero weather. I would have been out in the frigid cold in my condition…If I slipped and fell…it truly scared me.” Thankfully, he was able to stay in the hospital long enough to recuperate. Unfortunately, upon discharge, he ended up back on the streets for another 14 years. Isaac, like many people experiencing long-term or “chronic” homelessness, became weary of the shelter system. After one bad experience he swore them off altogether. He spent his days working on his art and selling it on the streets, then at night he would look for a safe spot to sleep.
“I was homeless, and I never really looked at it as being homeless. I don’t know if that was because it was a survival skill or if I really just believed that. I was looked at as this homeless, starving, drug addict, robber…you can feel it, you can feel the indifference. And they knew nothing about me other than the fact that I was homeless.” – Isaac
Isaac’s path to housing finally materialized in 2018 when a client he was creating a logo for referred him to a friend who worked in homeless services. He was connected to Columbus House’s Outreach & Engagement team and due to his vulnerability, was eligible for immediate housing assistance. Working with Columbus House staff, he quickly found an apartment and moved directly from the streets into his own home. Isaac, now 61 years old, is safe and content. “I think everything has changed for the positive. I have time to sit back and do an art piece without feeling like I have to get it done in a day. I have time to think, to reflect, to get some direction. There are so many things to be grateful for.”
“When I moved into my own apartment in November 2018, I was still very much on the streets, mentally. For two weeks I did not take off my clothes, my shoes, the money out of my pocket. One day, it was about midnight, I couldn’t sleep, and something said to me ‘Why aren’t you taking your clothes off? This is your house, this is your apartment, you pay rent!’
The answer: ‘I’ve been homeless for so long, I’m just used to it.’ It took me a few months to get the reality that it was my apartment and that I could do what I wanted to do with my apartment, and I kind of cried because the reality had really set in of how long I had been living on the streets.” – Isaac
Columbus House has expanded our services over the years to provide a robust continuum of programs designed to address peoples’ individual needs that meet them where they are at in order to help them attain and maintain permanent homes. Rapid Re-Housing, introduced in 2011, helps thousands of people move directly into affordable apartments from the streets and other unsafe living conditions. In 2013, in partnership with Yale New Haven Hospital, Columbus House opened the first Medical Respite Program in Connecticut for people exiting the hospital who require recuperative care and are also experiencing homelessness. When Isaac learned of Medical Respite and the 24-hour care provided to our homeless neighbors he said, “That’s wonderful, that’s such good news. It’s needed.”
Your partnership helps around 2,800 people each year get on the path to permanent housing and independence. Will you please show your commitment to ending homelessness with a gift to Columbus House? On behalf of our neighbors like Isaac, thank you for making a positive impact.
Top: Isaac creates his artwork in his apartment.
Artwork by Isaac Canady: pen and ink, color pencil, graphite
All photos by Julianne Varacchi, Connecticut Public