06 Nov From the Woods to the Whitehouse
Byron was 20 years old and attending CPCC studying small business with the support of his mom, when she became ill in 2007. He quit school to care for her, but in 2009 she had to be moved to a nursing home where she passed away soon after. The house was willed to Byron, but he was unfortunately unable to afford the taxes and upkeep of the home. For a few years he stayed with family and friends, but eventually he found himself wandering the streets of Charlotte, sleeping in the woods or staying dry at a bus stop—living the life of a nomad, as he describes it. Without income, a stable home, or support system, Byron’s mental health issues were preventing him from leading a productive life.
Byron visited Urban Ministry Center often for lunch or other services, and during these visits he enjoyed getting to know some of the staff and volunteers, including Mecklenburg County Homeless Services Program Coordinator Megan Coffey. Megan was able to connect Byron to a SOAR worker to help him apply for disability income, and she referred him to UMC’s Street Outreach team. Director Allison Winston began working with him, helping him get ‘document ready’ for housing. Together, they filled out a housing program application and he was accepted into the Housing First Charlotte Mecklenburg Partnership (HFCMP) housing program- one of UMC’s Scattered Site programs.
Our Scattered Site program provides permanent supportive housing for people who suffer at least one disability and have been homeless for at least one year. The apartments in the program are owned and managed by several different landlords and are located all over Charlotte. Once accepted into the program, each tenant is provided a case manager to help him or her be successful. There is a housing specialist, a nurse who makes home visits, a SOAR specialist to help people apply for the disability income they are eligible to receive, a weekly support group, and a dozen or so social events each year to help build community. Mecklenburg County Community Supportive Services is an important partner for many of our housing programs, including HFCMP where all case management is provided by their Licensed Mental Health Clinicians.
When Byron was accepted into HFCMP in August 2017, he began working with county worker Andrea Magistro—he was one of her first clients in the program. Before they found housing, Andrea remembers taking Byron to appointments then asking, “Where should I drop you off?” Byron’s response, “I don’t know.” He really had no place to go. A few years earlier his dad had come to visit. Byron had scraped together some money for them to rent a motel room, but when the hotel staff saw the UMC address, 945 N. College St., on his ID, they refused to give him a room. He was humiliated.
On December 23, 2017, Byron was finally able to move into his apartment. That’s when he began describing his journey so succinctly, “from the woods to the Whitehouse.” The inside of his apartment is painted white, but this sentiment is really about position—about having a place to go; about a place where he’s in charge. In February 2018, Byron’s SSI disability application was approved. Housing and income have helped his life come together. He is able to pay his own rent (30% of his income), purchase food, a bus pass, and most importantly, host his family. His favorite moment so far has been a visit from his dad and step-mother. Instead of being humiliated, he felt blessed to offer a cozy place for them to stay, and they are so proud of him.
In addition to the regular case management Andrea completes with Byron, they are embarking on something never heard of before in our housing programs. Bryon wants to get his passport. He’s not sure how or when he can travel internationally, but he wants to be prepared for an opportunity. Maybe Jamaica, where he has family. Reconnecting with family is one of our favorite outcomes of permanent supportive housing, and living in the ‘Whitehouse,’ no one knows that better than Byron.
This story first appeared in the FY18 Annual Report for Urban Ministry Center.