Hope and Healing: The Transformative Power of Supportive Housing

Farrell Mike grew up in a big family on the west side of Chicago. He was a triplet and the youngest of 26 kids. Farrell witnessed a lot of violence growing up, and the final straw was when one of his childhood friends was shot while they were playing outside. In 1972, his mom moved him and his siblings north to Milwaukee. Farrell was eight years old.

Farrell Mike has found peace at his Johnston Center home.

The Guest House of Milwaukee

Farrell graduated high school in Milwaukee but later became involved in a gang. He struggled with his mental health after several traumatic incidents while he was in a gang, as well as the loss of his mother, “I went crazy, I lost it, that was my girl.” After his mother passed away, he became homeless. During this time, he frequented Martin Luther King Park. One day, a woman named Jenny came up to him. One of his brothers, Derrick, had told Jenny about his struggles, and she sought Farrell out. Immediately upon meeting Farrell, Jenny challenged him to change, inviting Farrell to take part in the ‘Challenge of Change’ program at the Guest House of Milwaukee. “When she told me that, I broke down like a puppy crying. I left that lifestyle.”

Farrell stayed at the Guest House for six months and participated in their program, which had teachers from all over the United States come and teach those sheltering there how to work jobs for those living with mental illness. He describes, “I got certified through the Red Cross. I was at the top of the class when I graduated. I was working at a Safe Haven with the mentally ill, passing out medications, logging who comes in and out.”

Soon after leaving the Guest House, Farrell was back unhoused and living on the streets. Then, he faced a criminal trial. A pastor helped represent him in court, and Farrell started to take comfort in Christianity. It’s been a part of his life ever since.

Discovering Happiness at Johnston Center

In 2023, Farrell returned to the Guest House and completed their program in a month and a half. He talked with Jennifer, the head of the drug rehabilitation program, and said, “I don’t want to be around no drug dealing; I want to be at peace with myself in a new environment.” Jennifer helped connect Farrell with Mercy Housing Lakefront, and shortly after, he settled in at the Johnston Center Residences in Milwaukee. “I’ve been straight as an arrow ever since; I’ve been happy. First time I’ve been happy in a long time.”

Now 60, Farrell’s been living at Johnston Center for over six months. He has a Case Manager, Brenda, who he sees weekly. “[Brenda] helped save my life. She really did. I’m excited to see her because she really helped me. They don’t talk down to you; they listen; that’s the big difference to me.”

Brenda and her team meet one-on-one with Johnston Center residents, creating personalized service plans while organizing daily activities that foster community and advocating for them. They also assist residents in cultivating leadership abilities and gaining knowledge about civic engagement through onsite programming, which is popular among residents.

“Farrell is a model tenant for others in the building,” Brenda shares. “He has a wonderful sense of humor and is engaged strongly in services like obtaining resources and working towards his goals.”

Farrell has been on dialysis for the past eight years, and having a permanent, supportive home at Johnston Center has helped him take better care of his health. He’s quit smoking, works out at the onsite fitness room when he can, and has been eating better. He has a friend, Vanetta, who he met at dialysis, and they pray together every morning and run errands together. “I came here to get my life together. I’ve been able to take walks and breathe. I play the harmonica.”

Now that Farrell has housing and is improving his health, he wants to help others in need. His goal is to one day open a shelter for homeless people and help others. “That’s one of my main goals while I’m here; I’m gonna get it done.”