People who know Cris call him “the professor.” When he talks, they listen. And well they should, because his wisdom comes from painful life experience.
Today Cris is a CaringWorks House Manager and Certified Peer Specialist, but less than a decade ago he was a full-blown addict, and had been since his teens. “It was necessary for me to function,” the soft-spoken 58-year-old now says. “That was the scary part of it. “ He didn’t struggle alone, however. His mother believed in him, as did his sisters, and as a result he battled his way to sobriety at several points before painfully relapsing.
Nothing truly changed for him until 2006, when—in the wake of his mother’s passing—he drank himself nearly to the point of death and found himself in a crisis center. After overstaying his allotted time, his sister Hylda intervened and brought him from Muscogee, Oklahoma to Atlanta. “I didn’t have any clue what I was going to do with my brother when he got here,” Hylda recalls with a hearty, knowing laugh. Through word-of-mouth and his sister’s advocacy, Cris found Hope House. After he began living there and working through his recovery, he naturally began helping others. “Hope House is a sacred place,” Hylda says. “What I love about Hope House and CaringWorks is that professionals here actually care.” Though trained as an electrician, Cris gravitated to helping people, sharing his experience and speaking with the authority of someone who had been there. In December 2010, long after his residence at Hope House had ended, he was hired there as a member of the staff. Today he’s grateful—and maybe just a bit amazed—at the work he’s privileged to do, and the training the organization has funded on his behalf. “To continue on this journey is just amazing,” he says. “It’s like the icing on the cake.”
When Latoya first walked through the door of her East Point apartment and witnessed the excitement of her three children, she immediately got emotional.
“My kids were saying, ‘oh mommy, can we pick our own room?’ And I just started crying.” For Latoya it was the end of a difficult period that culminated in homelessness and a stay at Atlanta’s Gateway Center while she worked the phones and fax machine, desperately looking for solutions. “I was pregnant at the time with my youngest daughter… Trying to find housing for more than one child, being pregnant, many places said there was nothing they could do for me.”
The story of how Latoya ended up on the streets is a common one for many young mothers—trapped in a rocky relationship, she endured it for the sake of her children until she just couldn’t take it anymore. Then, with no money, no job and no childcare, she found herself with few alternatives besides shelters. Fortunately, she connected with CaringWorks’ M.O.V.E. program, which helped fund the apartment, then worked with her to help her solve the issues—in her case, unemployment and a lack of affordable childcare—that caused her to be homeless in the first place.
And while CaringWorks encourages clients to set goals, it turned out that she didn’t need much help in that department. “I was going to Clayton State University before I got pregnant,” she says, a proud smile creeping across her face. “My goal now is to go back and study psychology. I’d like to get my CDA* and open my own daycare. “
* Child Development Associate, a certification for childcare workers.
For decades, David’s life looked like a series of peaks and valleys. He’d go through a 12-step program and experience success – then he’d have a relapse.
He’d be in an apartment, paying his rent and keeping up with expenses—then he’d be evicted and out on the streets due to his addictions. “I lost two wives as a result,” he says. “I got good jobs, and blew ‘em.”
Finally, he bottomed out, spending three straight years homeless—taking refuge under bridges and occasionally in night shelters when the weather was cold. “If I ever did get my hands on some money I’d drink it up or buy some drugs or whatever,” he says. Another agency reached out to help, and in the process David realized he had a mental-health issue on top of an addiction issue—something he now realizes is pretty common among the chronically homeless.
Through United Way, David was connected to CaringWorks’ RISE program—which helped him move to his own apartment (“no roommate,” he says, smiling). Today the gentlemanly 58-year-old is enrolled in Medicaid and is managing his bipolar disorder with medication. He’s also making amends with his past and reconnecting with his three children. Being homeless “was hell on earth,” he says. “I never want to go back there.” So when he feels himself starting to struggle, “I try to reach out and help somebody else.”