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Tom Karoff, Doctor of Osteopathy
Putnam Hospital Center, New York
Former ELAHP Case Manager
During his time at ELAHP, Tom discovered just how much he loved trying to help others, even if the end result was not always what he had hoped it would be.
Tom first encountered ELAHP when he worked on the Pine Street Inn outreach van in the early 1990’s. For years, every night the van came across an elderly man named Charles roaming the streets, and every night they tried to convince him to give up the streets and accept housing. But Charles always resisted. Because of his addiction, he always had plans for his small monthly disability check that did not involve paying rent. Finally, one night, Charles was ready to try living on his own. But Tom knew that Charles was going to need help for this to be successful. Conserving his disability check for food and rent was only one piece. For him to make the adjustment successfully from living on the streets to living in a studio apartment Charles was going to need a great deal of support.
At that time, ELAHP was having enormous success taking homeless men and women directly off the streets and putting them into temporary apartments, providing the support services they needed to transition from homelessness to being housed, then finding them permanent places to live. While this is increasingly the standard now, in those days it was unheard of. But it was exactly what Charles needed to get off the streets. Tom referred Charles to ELAHP and was amazed at how well Charles did in their program. Within months Charles had a permanent apartment. And while Charles was not able to overcome his addiction completely, ELAHP’s case managers did find ways to work with him to put aside enough money to pay his rent and meet his basic needs.
After more experiences like this with other clients from the street, Tom left Pine Street Inn and went to work for ELAHP as a case manager. “I went from saving lives bent on self-destruction every night,” Tom explains, “to helping clients figure out and overcome the tragic barrier that keep them living on the street rather than finding hope in a studio apartment.” He recalls how the weekly staff meetings at ELAHP brought the team together to discuss the psychological and sociological approaches they could take to try to piece back together the frail, precarious lives of their clients.
“I remember how we all rejoiced,” Tom says, “when a client with Tourette’s Syndrome agreed for a psychological evaluation exam which proved key in getting him accepted into Cambridge public housing.” It wasn’t all celebration, though, he recalls. “We cried when another client who had been sober started drinking again, nearly burned down his apartment and ended up returning to the shelter.”
During his time at ELAHP, Tom discovered just how much he loved trying to help others, even if the end result was not always what he had hoped it would be. This was one of the factors that convinced him to take on the challenge of becoming a Doctor of Osteopathy. Looking back, Tom believes that he may have made a difference in some peoples’ lives when he was working at ELAHP or on the outreach van. “But more likely,” he says, “I was a channel for a dream that they already had, and the forces of the universe conspired to interrupt their pain and suffering for as long as they could possibly tolerate.”