Tests and Triumphs

December 9, 2020

Nate Johnson describes himself as an adventurer, an explorer. As a young man he traveled in Europe, visiting Rome, Luxembourg, and points in between. He worked in the plumbing trade for 20 years in New York and Pennsylvania and likes to be independent and take care of his own business. But a failed marriage and the loss of his father, followed by addiction and mental health issues, disrupted his path.

Hoping that a change would help, Nate remembered a past visit to Charlotte. “Charlotte treated me with love and compassion. The city’s development was an inspiration to me.” In March 2018, he arrived at the bus station on Trade Street with nowhere to stay. He slept on the street and in parking decks until he was referred to the Tryon shelter.

The stability of the shelter paired with on-site psychiatric support helped provide immediate crisis relief. Next came conversations with Joe Hamby, Director of Income Services, about paths to employment. Joe encouraged Nate to check out an information session about vocational training opportunities presented at the shelter by NCIA (National Center on Institutes and Alternatives).

Following the presentation, Nate entered the HVAC program at HJH Vocational Training Center Charlotte, putting everything he had into studying, asking questions, and learning the trade. At the same time, he paid off a debt that for years had been preventing him from getting his driver’s license.

But in March 2020, before Nate completed the HVAC program, another hurdle arose – COVID-19. He says, “Because of the virus, the situation [program] extended out, and we got tablets and started studying from home.”

Remote learning with new technology while living in the shelter environment could have derailed his progress, but Nate stayed focused. During this time, he moved from the shelter to his own house.

Kim Scholtz, clinical social worker with Mecklenburg County Community Support Services (CSS), worked with Nate in his transition to housing. She says, “He is the most remarkable person I’ve worked with in terms of achieving his goals in such a short period of time and being dedicated to getting stability. He took all the help that was offered to him. In housing, he is reliable, pays his bills, and relishes the opportunity to be independent.” Kim also notes that Nate is very insightful about maintaining mental health. “He understands when something is wrong and takes a step back to reconsider what he needs to do differently.”

Limited in-person instruction for the HVAC program resumed and Nate completed his course work. An NCIA staff member highlights Nate’s amazing perseverance and success: “Today [May 2020] he took and passed four tests to earn his HVAC certifications which will open all kinds of employment doors for him. These tests are HARD. There is math involved, and science, and lots of details.”

More triumphs and more hurdles: Nate was offered employment with a plumbing and HVAC contractor and needed a driver’s license to begin work. He passed the Department of Motor Vehicles written test, but road tests were suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions. As he waited for the situation to resolve, Nate began doing contract HVAC work through a temp agency.

The path from homelessness to housing often involves small steps and periods of waiting. For Nate, meaningful employment is important to his long-term stability. In November 2020, good news! Road tests resumed at the DMV. Nate passed his test, received his driver’s license, and is ready for work. His humble response to congratulations on moving forward: “God has been good to me.”

Roof Above staff and community partners walked alongside Nate, but his hard work and belief in himself were the keys to his success.  He continues to set goals and looks forward to reuniting with his daughters and two grandsons. We are excited for his future!