“The last place I lived that felt like home was with my mom until she went into the nursing home.” That was 1999. Since that time, LaConia Stewart has mostly lived unsheltered in places unfit for human habitation. “I’ve slept under bridges, in empty cars, and right in a field.” As a resourceful woman, she knows how to build a bed of layers to keep warm. “(Once) I had a comforter, an oriental rug, plywood, more comforters and sleeping bags because it was 28 degrees out there.” A few years ago, injuries from a car accident made life harder.
LaConia tells her story in a genuine, matter-of-fact way, with no anger or bitterness, and her resilient attitude is inspiring. She says, “I’m not going to let nothing beat me or disrespect myself or give up.”
For seven months during the pandemic, LaConia lived in tent city near uptown Charlotte where there was access to resources. She made her space feel homey with flowers and a little front yard fence, to show that it was a safe and welcoming place to be. When the encampment was closed in February 2021, she moved to a motel shelter. It was a better space out of the elements but still temporary.
Roof Above outreach team members Caleb Sauls and Hannah Sisk worked with LaConia, building a trusting relationship that was pivotal in her decision to connect to housing. Caleb says, “She’s very consistent in setting up her own goals. My job was to help her navigate, but she was doing the hard work.”
In May 2021, LaConia moved into HillRock Estates as a member of our Homeful Housing community for people who have experienced long-term homelessness. Right away she started cooking in her kitchen. Hospitality is still part of who she is. “Me and Hannah and Caleb are going to have a potluck dinner at my apartment.”
When asked to describe her new home, LaConia closes her eyes and smiles. “I dreamed about my apartment before I moved into it, so I knew how to decorate it. I really like the security. This is my first place and I have peace of mind. It feels like home.”