A lot of us have complained about 2021 and 2022 being difficult years, but few people have had the year that RSA member Shakiyl Muhammad had. After being shot and paralyzed near the end of 2021, he spent a couple months in rehab and then returned to the home he shared in the City of Rochester with his girlfriend. After a few months in this living arrangement, they had a falling out and Shakiyl found himself homeless – spending the night on whatever couch he could borrow or literally sleeping in his wheelchair in an alley or park or wherever seemed safe for the night.
When he turned to the county for help, they said he could have space in a shared room at a homeless shelter. Due to Shakiyl’s personal care needs and the shelter’s policies, this was not a viable option, but the county offered no other solution. He went back to sleeping wherever he could.
If this all wasn’t enough, on his birthday in August 2022, Shakiyl was the passenger in a car accident. He was mildly injured, but what was worse was that the car was impounded with his wheelchair still in it! When he tried to retrieve his wheelchair, he was told it was “evidence” and he could not get it.
Fortunately, through all these hardships, Shakiyl could turn to the Rochester Spinal Association.
When he was first paralyzed, Shakiyl met RSA’s Executive Director, Chris Hilderbrant. When he saw on social media that Shakiyl was homeless, Chris reached out to reconnect with Shakiyl. When the county provided no viable options for shelter, Chris got involved and advocated to override county policy and helped Shakiyl get placed at a motel in an accessible room. Friends through RSA provided Shakiyl with needed personal care supplies.
After the accident, when Shakiyl’s wheelchair was being improperly held as evidence, he reached out to Chris and RSA. After multiple calls to the district attorney, state police, county sheriff, and tow company, the wheelchair was free to go. Chris drove Shakiyl to Buffalo to reclaim the wheelchair.
To address the ongoing need for housing, RSA connected Shakiyl with Eileen Hurley, LCSW, RN, through RSA’s new partnership with Spiritus Christi Mental Health Center. Through determined advocacy and personal patience, Eileen and Shakiyl were able to overcome policy barriers and secure Shakiyl an affordable, accessible apartment. It is the first time Shakiyl has ever signed a lease and had an apartment in his own name.
Throughout all the challenges this year, Shakiyl tried wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, and adapted kayaking. It was his first time ever kayaking, adapted or otherwise! He was also featured in a promotional video for the City of Rochester’s public transportation plan and he provided support to other young men going through similar challenges. Of course, the highlight is securing an accessible apartment to call his own!
Shakiyl had a hard year, but thanks to RSA’s services and his own determination, he overcame many obstacles and had some great experiences during that year. He looks forward to better times ahead, including getting back to work, owning a car, driving, and providing more help to others.