The cube where he sleeps is called “Prosperity,” and I ask if he likes his bunk’s name. He puckers his lips in thought, then through a signature grin that tilts his chin slightly upward and narrows his twinkling eyes, tells me he approves.
“Yeah. Yeah, I like it. It’s a good word.”
Jovonni is difficult not to like. His head nods gently, rhythmically, in conversation, evidence that he’s carefully taking in everything you’re saying, while the corners of his mouth are usually pulled gently upward in a relaxed grin that puts you immediately at ease. His eyes are soft and kind, and they shine with an unhindered enthusiasm many people seem to lose as life takes unexpected twists and turns. It’s likely you’ll leave a conversation with him smiling, whether you set out to smile or not.
He is resident of the Nest, our transitional housing program, where bunks are given names like Prosperity or Greatness or Hope, rather than sanitized, impersonal numbers or letters.
Jovonni has lived there for a few months now as he works to save money and searches for his own place. He’s just graduated from the Street Bean apprenticeship program, where he worked for six months and learned to “throw ‘spro,” as the staff sometimes quips. During that time, he also started working for a local retailer.
I’d asked if he’d tell me about his experience in the Nest, mentioning that it’s the shelter’s one-year anniversary, and though momentarily hesitant, he quickly said (mostly to himself), “Well, yeah. Yeah, if it’s for the Nest. Yeah, come on.”
He lead me to his bunk and we chatted about what he likes about his living situation.
The short-term stability it’s provided has helped him think about and work toward his longer term plans, a benefit of transitional housing we’ve seen time and time again: it’s quite difficult to manage your future needs when your day-to-day ones are a question mark.
Programs like the Nest help stabilize one part of a young person’s life by ensuring consistency – there’s no worrying about where to eat or sleep – and free him or her to look toward other resources like employment, education, or treatment.
Plus, it creates space to be human, to explore passions, interests, and hobbies – a luxury of the stably housed and gainfully employed.
The Nest has given him the freedom to be more creative and finish mastering the music he’s written when he’s not working. It’s rare to see Jovonni without his headphones on working on his latest music recordings and original writings.
“The Nest provides structure, which motivates you to keep working on your goals,” he offers thoughtfully. “I like that I can relax on the couch, work on my music, watch movies from time to time, get a shower whenever I want.”
He thinks a little more, his grin appearing again as he thinks carefully, and says it’s also taught him about sharing a space with others and caring for it responsibly.
“It’s clean, it’s quiet, a place of relaxation, but also a place to laugh and spend time with other people. It prepares you to live with roommates and teaches you to take care of your own space.”
He graciously lets me take his photo by his cube but insists that he see it. Upon examination, he says, “Wait one second, I gotta get a hat.” He disappears briefly, taming his hair on the way out, only to reappear a moment later smiling underneath a flat-billed, vintage Chicago Bulls hat.
“Okay, now try this,” he says, planting his feet, crossing his arms and smiling, his chin tilting upward and eyes narrowing, still twinkling, again. I snap the photo, and he gives an approving “Yeah, yeah, that one.”
Jovonni politely asks to be excused if we’re done, and he goes back to his computer to finish mastering another track, doing that trotting thing people do when they’re eager to get back to something important; not quite running, but not quite walking, either.
I realize I’ve unknowingly encroached upon his free time by asking for a quick tour, and I smile knowing that he gave freely of it to humor me.
I smile, too, at the simple fact that now, he has free time to give.
Help us celebrate the Nest’s one-year anniversary this week by donating one or two of the items on its birthday wishlist on Amazon! Make it easy on yourself and put 2709 3rd Avenue, Seattle, WA 98121 as the shipping address, and we’ll unpack and sort everything for you!