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A New Home Provides Renewed Hope for Bright Future

Wednesday, July 9, 2014 by Mary Ellen Harris-Gelberg

Felipe Olivas probably has the neatest, most orderly apartment at Labre Place, the attractive new 90-unit apartment building in downtown Miami he calls home. But life wasn’t always so tidy for Felipe.

In the past, he was a restaurant equipment supply worker in West Palm and “up to no good,” as he puts it. “It was nothing but drinking and things people shouldn’t be doing,” he adds.

Laid off, he quickly became homeless and lived on the streets. He came to Miami, but things didn’t get any better. On May 25, 2010, he had had enough. “That was it,” he decided, and that was the day he knocked on the door of Camillus House. “They accepted me,” he says with a soft smile.

From that point, life began to improve. He got into a program and “learned a lot of stuff,” he says.
“I learned to keep my mouth shut and listen.” He became aware that “the people that talked the most were the first to go back on the streets, so I just listened.”

Next, he worked at the Downtown Development Authority for 9 months and lived in Matt Talbot House, transitional housing for single adults who have recently completed substance abuse treatment. And then, Camillus House helped him get an apartment at Labre Place. “I love my place,” he smiles. “It’s my home. It keeps me doing the right thing.”

According to Dr. Austin Jerani, a Camillus House Licensed Psychologist who has an office at Labre Place, 50 of the 90 one bedroom units are set aside for Camillus clients. The rest are for persons who qualify as low income residents under federal guidelines. Furniture and necessities are donated to Camillus residents. “Clients can move in with their clothes and a toothbrush,” Dr. Jerani says.

Residents pay rent – 30% of their adjusted gross income for Camillus clients – as well as utilities and cable. The building is in a great location – “there’s a Metrorail right here,” he says – and offers a community room for meetings and parties, a fitness center and laundry room. It is managed by Royal America, and the building management decorates for every holiday. Camillus House also hosts educational events and house meetings in the community room, which is bright, attractive and well stocked with a flat screen TV and donated books and magazines.

Today, Felipe works with a catering company and for a security firm. The catering company is seasonal, with the busiest time during the holidays. A proud man, he doesn’t like to accept unemployment, so he works for a security firm when the catering business is slow. “I need to work,” he says. “I need to work.”

When he’s not working, Felipe has a new hobby. He started lifting weights during his recovery. Now, he goes to a gym every day at 5 am. In fact, the owners trust him so much, they have given him the key. He’s the one who opens up in the morning.

According to Dr. Jerani, Felipe saves his money and is reestablishing contact with a daughter. And according to Felipe, he’s very happy at Labre Place. “It’s a brand new place,” he comments. “It’s safe.

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