Walk of Hope: Charles’ Story

It’s been eight years since Charles, 41, decided to turn his life around. After years of living on the streets, and struggling with drug addiction, one particular moment inspired him to change everything. “I saw my face on all the people I was doing drugs with, and in that moment I realized I was done with that lifestyle,” he says. Today, Charles is eight years sober, has been housed for five years, and has found stability with help from ShelterCare.

As a child, Charles faced severe abuse, which led him to run away from home at 15 years old. When Charles was first introduced to ShelterCare in 2009, he had been homeless for 11 years, was living with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), an acute mental health condition, and had zero income. “For me, a guy who’s been down in the dumps, it was hard for me to swallow my pride and ask for help,” he says. “But I finally did it, and ShelterCare has never done me wrong.”

Charles received support through ShelterCare’s former “The Inside Program” (TIP), which provided transitional housing to individuals living with mental illness. This program helped Charles get connected to disability income for his brain injury and mental health condition. “We just pointed him in the right direction, and within months he had stable income again,” said Tim Rockwell, Charles’ former TIP case manager.

Later, Charles transitioned to ShelterCare’s Sponsor-Based Rental Assistance (SRA) program, which helped him secure the subsidized apartment he lives in today. He was also connected to ShelterCare’s Behavioral Health Services, which helps people find stability and purpose through therapy, peer support, skills training, payee services, case management, healthcare coordination, and therapeutic activities. “Most of the individuals we serve have barriers that would be impossible to overcome without a support system,” says ShelterCare Clinical Director, Ariann Harrelson. “We make these barriers a priority because it is necessary in order to help people permanently overcome homelessness and move forward in their lives.”

Through behavioral health, Charles has a case manager who meets with him weekly to work on medication management and memorization. “Our biggest goal is helping him become more independent, and medication is a huge part of that,” says his case manager, Kiley Shannon. “We help him memorize the names of medications, what each medication does, and when they should be taken.”

In addition to providing medication skills training, Kiley also provides Charles with trauma-informed support as he copes with the symptoms of his mental health conditions. “If I’m in a depressed mood she’ll be able to tell by the way I’m walking or talking that I’m feeling down,” says Charles, who also lives with PTSD and Schizoaffective Depressive Disorder. “She’ll ask what’s wrong, and give me advice based on whatever I’m worried about.”

Charles also receives monthly support from his ShelterCare Peer Support Specialist, Emma Swanson, who uses her personal experience with recovery to help Charles reach his goals. “In the past, Charles struggled with remembering appointments and important information about his health,” says Emma. “The biggest thing we have worked on are tracking his appointments and following through with doctors’ recommendations.” Emma also provides Charles with support around his personal issues, housing waitlist sign-ups, and his financial goals.

In addition to case management and peer support, Charles also utilizes ShelterCare’s payee services, which are another aspect of ShelterCare’s Behavioral Health Services. “My brain injury makes it hard to do a lot of things, including manage money, but ShelterCare’s payees have been a blessing,” Charles says. “Every month my money is sent to them, and they make sure all my bills get paid, and help me save money.” According to a recent study by The Lancet Public Health, nearly 50% of unhoused individuals have experienced at least one traumatic brain injury in their life.

ShelterCare’s behavioral health team currently supports 16 clients in managing their income and bills. The team writes and mails nearly 140 checks every month; for everything from clients’ rent and utilities, to their phone and cable bills.

When Charles began utilizing ShelterCare’s payee services in May 2018, he had numerous traffic fines which prevented him from being able to drive. However, by December 2019, he had paid off all of his fines, got his license back, and was able to purchase a 1995 Toyota Camry. “Charles is one of the most dedicated people I have ever met,” says Patti Kester, Office Manager for ShelterCare’s Behavioral Health Services. “He was so dedicated to paying off his fines, getting his driver’s license, and buying a car, that he went more than a year without any extra money.”

Charles started working on cars when he was 10 years old, and he describes the hobby as his “higher power.” “I worked on cars every single day when I was a kid,” he says. “Being a mechanic was my form of escape – it kept me out of trouble – so I knew I needed to get back to fixing cars once I found a home.” Alongside his passion for cars, Charles’ journey has also led him back to his daughter and young grandchild, whom he loves spending time with. “He is a proud father and grandfather,” says his peer support specialist, Emma. “ His daughter and grandbaby are his world.”

Through it all, Charles says one of the greatest things the behavioral health team has done is patiently support him through the recovery process while he “rewired” his brain. “You can’t come off the streets, with that many years of abuse and trauma, and automatically be able to change,” he says. “I lived in survival mode my whole life, because I was always worried something bad was going to happen – or that someone was going to take advantage of me – but ShelterCare helped me get through that. It’s been in the past year or two that I’ve actually been able to live.”

Last year, with help from compassionate neighbors like you, ShelterCare’s Behavioral Health team supported 258 individuals on their journey towards recovery and independence. Would you help us by making a donation today? Your donations offer hope, transform lives, and help us build a stronger community.

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