Stephen Bates, a resident of Odyssey House Soundview Avenue, was recognized as “Tenant of the Year” by the Supportive Housing Network of New York (SHNNY) at their annual gala. Mr. Bates was recognized for his “tenacity and strength to overcome tremendous hardships and rebuild [his life] in supportive housing.” Here is his story.
Everyone who knows Stephen Bates is moved to tears by his story. He struggled with undiagnosed psychiatric issues from a very young age, issues that manifested as severe behavioral problems including stealing and skipping school. One of seven children, he was too much for his single mother to handle and she sent him to a group home when he was 14. He ran away and continued to act out, burglarizing homes, doing drugs, and stealing from his family. His mother threw him out of the house and he became homeless. He landed in Spofford Juvenile Jail not long after, the beginning of what would be twenty-two years of imprisonment.
It was during those two decades that Stephen heard from his sister that their mother was gravely ill. Stephen was allowed to leave prison to visit her at the hospital. This visit, and his mother’s passing a few days later, changed everything; Stephen “made a promise to my mother, to myself and to God” to turn his life around.
When Stephen was finally released, he was able to start making good on that promise, first seeking out psychiatric treatment from Manhattan Psychiatric Center and later moving into Odyssey House’s Soundview Residence in 2014. Says Administrative Assistant and Entitlement Specialist Monica Tracey, “Odyssey House was truly blessed to have been graced with his presence…he is an amazing individual with a heart of gold.”
Since moving to Soundview, Stephen has focused his life on giving back. He volunteers at the Presbyterian Church across the street, pays for food at community gatherings, makes goody bags for local children, acts as DJ at summer barbecues, helps keep up the residence garden, and uses his thirst for knowledge to help residents with advice on a range of issues. Says neighbor Vivian Jackson. “He’s a good friend. If I feel upset or depressed sometimes, I go talk to him. And he does cookouts and we all meet to eat, dance and laugh. It’s very special.”
Not long after moving in, Stephen met the woman whom he has asked to marry him, Lynette Childs, who, showing off her engagement ring states simply: “He makes me the happiest person ever.”
Insisting that he does not want to be a “taker,” Stephen also got off SSI and holds down a job as a Home Health Aide. He is proud of his achievements, demonstrating how far he has grown from his younger days of hustling on the streets.
For overcoming a life of institutionalization, mental health challenges, and addiction, we are delighted to honor Stephen Bates as the 2018 Tenant of the Year.
SHNNY is a membership organization representing 200 nonprofit organizations that have collectively created more than 50,000 units of supportive housing across New York State.