More than an Empathetic Caregiver

May 12, 2023

Chris is a nurse in our Scattered Site housing team. But he’s more than just an empathetic caregiver. He’s someone who knows what it’s like to sleep outside.  

Raised in Pembroke, North Carolina, Chris came from a well-respected family. His father worked for the Town of Pembroke, and his mother worked for the Lumbee tribe, Chris’ community. As a teenager, Chris was an athlete. He played football, basketball and baseball. He was a great student. At the start of his tenth-grade year, he was third in his class. But that was also the year he was introduced to drugs and alcohol. By the start of eleventh grade, he was asked to leave public school altogether. He enrolled in adult high school and started in community college, taking turns at different recovery programs, but his struggle with addiction continued. A searing moment remains in his mind: his parents told him, “If you are going to be an embarrassment, do it somewhere else.” 

That was largely how he found himself in Charlotte, checking into a recovery house. When that didn’t work out, he started his descent into homelessness. Most of his world existed in a half-mile stretch near Uptown, between our Day Services Center and a little convenience store just beyond our Tryon shelter.   

Now in his home hang two frames with pictures from this time of his life – the dumpster he slept beside, the ravine where people gathered to use drugs, and our Day Services Center and North Tryon Shelter, two places that helped keep him alive.

But he didn’t always want to stay alive. “I wanted to die every single day,” Chris told me. “The shame and the guilt were so overwhelming. I had a kid I hadn’t seen in who knows when. The holidays were coming, and I couldn’t buy him anything. I kept questioning – how did I get here?” 

Now married, an active parent and a registered nurse, Chris sometimes cannot believe how different his life is. He says at moments he’ll be in the car and just randomly break out in tears, overwhelmed with gratitude. 

The shift started inside Chris, but Roof Above’s programs were a big part of it. He connected with our shelter and the treatment program Mecklenburg County operates within it. February 22, 2009, nearly 14 years ago, he began his recovery from addiction and homelessness.  

He never imagined that he would end up working for Roof Above. Chris actually took a significant pay cut to join our team and to do this work. But it has been a meaningful change. “I have come full circle.  This is where I come from.”