There’s an old saying, “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?”
You can hear that wisdom in Zariia McRae’s voice as she describes her work as a Housing Navigator for the N. Tryon St. Men’s Shelter. “Nothing’s easy,” she says, but that does not stop her. She simply asks herself:
“What can I do?”
Zariia started at Roof Above as a volunteer while working at a group home for adults with mental disabilities. In the fall of 2019, she was hired as a Housing Navigator. She works with N. Tyron St. shelter guests through the entire housing process: scheduling DMV appointments for IDs, looking for apartments, applying to programs, and moving home. For Zariia, that means “Every day is different.”
This was especially true when only six months into her new job, the pandemic changed her role completely. Over the first year of the pandemic, the shelter transitioned to motels to increase social distancing. Visiting with guests was difficult to coordinate, but undeterred—asking herself “What can I do?”—her office became folding tables in common areas.
Although the intention is for guests’ stay at the shelter to be brief – a transition point to permanent housing – the pandemic continues to create new challenges to each step of the housing process. DMV appointments are booked two months out, guests might wait on hold with social security for hours, and affordable apartments are increasingly rare. Just this week the Charlotte Observer shared that just 1 percent of apartments in Mecklenburg County currently rent for less than $1,000. In the face of these challenges, you will hear a common refrain from Zariia: “What can I do?”
She remains present with each guest she works with- waiting on the phone, advocating for opportunities, and searching for housing. She stated it clearly: “One thing we cannot do: give up.”
This hard work pays off. Just last week, one of Zariia’s clients moved into housing after being on a waitlist for six years. This is a testament to the perseverance and resilience she brings out in each of her clients.
If you are asking yourself, “What can I do?” for the people Zariia serves, reach out and learn about all ways to get involved with Roof Above. As she says, “We are a strong community…Every little bit helps.”