Harrison’s Second Story

December 11, 2019

Harrison shoplifted daily to maintain his addiction. A cycle of arrests and jail visits made him a regular within the criminal justice system. When he wasn’t spending time in jail, he was sleeping in abandoned buildings or on church steps.

Harrison was very comfortable around churches. In fact, he was a pastor for 20 years. He reports one highlight of his career in Florence, South Carolina, was acting as a personal guide to President Bill Clinton as he toured the rebuilding of burned churches in the 90’s. Harrison held a deep love for his pastoral work.

But around 1999 things changed drastically for Harrison. His mother’s health continued to fail as she slipped further into dementia. The family, work, and emotional stability that Harrison had enjoyed came crumbling down. He began having thoughts of suicide. He was 45 years old when he began self-medicating with drugs.

He tried to quit. He came to Charlotte in 2000, entering a local treatment program. Approaching graduation after 6 months in the program, he began using again. At least four times, over 15 years, he entered programs and tried to stay sober. In between, he spent time in jail and on the streets. He would sleep on the steps of First Methodist Church uptown—moving on before anyone could engage him.

For a couple years, Harrison lived in the Siegel Avenue Presbyterian Church, abandoned and scheduled for demolition. Eventually, he was discovered, but the arrangement quickly became mutually beneficial as he kept an eye on the building and its items. He even thwarted someone’s attempt to steal the pews and pulpit! He almost believed the men, who said their church was purchasing the furnishings, but he was tipped off by their crude language as they began loading their truck with the pews.

The cycle of homelessness, intermittent sobriety, and jail time continued. Harrison was now a ‘habitual offender’ and received longer sentences. However, he was also being noticed by caring professionals including arresting officers, judges in drug court, and the staff at our Men’s Shelter. Harrison had several short stays at the Men’s Shelter and Room In The Inn over the years, but in 2017 he was released from prison. He was sober and focused, determined to make it at the shelter. He focused his energy on volunteering in the kitchen.

Unfortunately, one day in October 2018, Harrison went back to see old friends who were using, and he was arrested for possession. This time the arresting officer made a recommendation to the judge and soon Harrison was enrolled in another treatment program. Luckily, the program paired with the shelter environment has helped him remain on track!

Harrison credits his work in the shelter kitchen and the volunteers he met there every day with helping him stay focused on his sobriety. He could also see a change in the shelter when he returned in 2017. He says that years ago it was just a place to stay with no plan for moving on, and now staff are even more encouraging, helping guests make changes to end their homelessness. Harrison credits Liz Clasen-Kelly with these changes, saying, “When I see her care and concern for shelter guests, it lifts me and reminds me of my time as a pastor.”

Shelter staff were able to help Harrison apply for permanent supportive housing, and he was accepted into our Scattered Site Housing Program earlier this year. His new case manager, Akeem McDuffie, helped him find an apartment. On September 20, after nearly 20 years without a place to call his own, Harrison moved in to his new home in the Cherry neighborhood!

Harrison first day home

Harrison’s first day in his new home!

Volunteers and donors from St. Matthew’s Catholic helped furnish his new home. They had become close friends as a result of their time together in the shelter kitchen. Volunteer Tom Ellis said, “Harrison has been the most standout shelter guest/kitchen volunteer I have known in my 32+years of volunteering at the Men’s Shelter. He’s always been supportive and very helpful when our team prepared our Saturday evening meals.”

With the help of so many caring community members, Harrison has rewritten his story to one of stability, sobriety, and service. He says, “the peace and tranquility that my home has brought to my life is absolutely unreal.” Harrison continues to help in the kitchen a few times every week. He volunteers with RunningWorks on a regular basis and serves with his church.

He’s still feeling the pastoral call, this time wanting to reach out to others who may feel helpless or hopeless the way he did for so many years. We believe his second story is just getting started.

Harrison’s second story wouldn’t be possible without caring professionals and generous donors. You can help write another story today. Donate Now