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After 8 years of being homeless, Charlotte man has a home on Thanksgiving

Robert with Whiskers. hspace=2
Robert with Whiskers. hspace=2

The first thing you notice is Robert's flair for decorating. There's a potpourri pot on the end table, plants all over, and in a place of honor on a ledge sit three photographs. He points to pictures of his sister, brother and 9-year-old niece, plus his grandmother. For Robert, these photos are unusual because he's been homeless for eight years. "Being on the street, you can't be lugging around pictures and things," he explains. He not only didn't have any photos of family during his homeless years . He wasn't even in touch with them. His sister lives a few hours away in South Carolina. He never called, though. He says he was ashamed. But for six months now, he's been in this two-bedroom apartment not far from Uptown, paid for by a pilot program at the Urban Ministry. It gives permanent housing and supervision to people who've been chronically homeless. Several private donors and foundations are footing the bill. And Robert is a changed man. "I'm not running to the ER to get a night's sleep," he says. "I'm not doing crazy stuff to get into jail just to take a shower. My appearance have truly changed. And when it comes time to getting on the city bus, I can get on very comfortably and sit next to someone and say, 'Hi, how you doing,' and not be concerned if they smell me, anything of that nature.' " In fact, since moving into his own apartment, he's taken to bathing twice a day. He's clean shaven, shirt is pressed. So that's why he finally felt comfortable phoning his sister after eight years of silence. She and her daughter came to visit for the 4th of July. That's when the photo was taken. Aside from his family, though, he gets few visitors. "I really do get lonely living in this place. But, at the present time I need to keep the focus on me." For Robert, kicking the homeless cycle also means severing ties with the people who surrounded him in the soup line, at the shelter, and getting drunk on the street. He's just finished a 28-day rehab program, and no matter how lonely he gets, he can't go back to his old ways. "It's like old playgrounds, old playmates," says Robert. "See I have purpose now, I have a place to be. I have something to lose now. When I was out on the street, it didn't matter. But now being here, it matters." Instead, he has Whiskers. "If I go out that door and start talking, that cat is coming," he says. To test his theory, we step out onto the small porch. "The second week I was here I was sitting out here on this porch and I seen that cat under a car. I went inside to get a can of sardines and . . . see there he is! I told you!" Sure enough, Whiskers appears. Aside from the gold and gray tomcat slinking through his flowerbeds, Robert says he hopes to make some new friends - maybe at daily AA meetings. But he won't be lonely for Thanksgiving. Rather than a meal at the Charlotte Rescue Mission, he'll be feasting with family, and of course, giving thanks. "Just to reflect on where I was at last year at this time in the barn up under four or five blankets laying on a piece of cardboard," says Robert. "I mean it take a crazy person not to take a look at this, and how grateful I am and how blessed. It's really something to take a look at."