by Jacob Snow, Program Supervisor, Housing Resource Center
Charles was born into a low-income family in Church Hill in 1959 and grew up downtown during segregation. He was held back in school multiple times for a pronounced learning disability. Soon after his mother died, he stopped going to school altogether. He was 15.
When he was 16, his father remarried. When he was 17, his father died. When he was 18, his stepmother kicked him out of the house so he walked across the street to an abandoned vehicle and started sleeping there until the car was towed. From there, he made his way down to the James River, where he began living outside.
For the next ten years or so, he lived down on the sandy part of the riverbank near the end of the Pipeline Walk at the north end of Mayo Island. He watched the City build the floodwall from his campsite. The Department of Public Works destroyed his campsite sometime around 1991 so he walked up the bank to the edge of the 14th Street Bridge. He has been there for most of his adult life.
Workers from local homeless service agencies would stop by to check on him from time-to-time over the years, but it was CCC who stuck with him.
When CCC's Street Outreach team began regularly connecting with him in mid-2018, Charles had less than five official recorded engagements with the Richmond homeless service system across three decades of unsheltered homelessness. In the year since, we have added almost 50 more.
As our team built trust and rapport with Charles, we began working to obtain his identifying records to help with documentation in order to house him. Initially, the only document he had with his name on it was a cracked library card. We helped him get his birth certificate from Vital Records, went to the Social Security Office to get his social security card, and went to DMV to get his identification card.
We conducted vulnerability assessments and verified his history of homelessness and any barriers to rehousing. We enrolled him in Medicaid and matched him with a housing program. We shuttled him around to attend appointments and to look at potential units. We advocated for him endlessly at case conferencing meetings. We appealed for, and received, move-in assistance from a private donor. All the while, we kept going to the river with bus tickets, coffee, blankets, food, and clothing. And we didn’t stop until we moved him into his own apartment.
Charles still goes down to the river most afternoons to look at the water. These days though, he just stays long enough to relax.
Then he goes home.