Moved in January 2017
Eric has lived on the streets for 7 years. Living on the streets can be lonely, but Eric has never forgotten the importance of community. As the son of a Baptist minister, Eric witnessed firsthand the power of friends and neighbors coming together to help one another.
“I remember it was the day after Christmas. I was 13 years old. My father’s letting out the service… and our neighbor on the other dirt road, [Tommy], he came to the door… and he was weeping, and my father, he saw him. After he let out the service he went back to [Tommy]. And I followed my father of course, I’m 13. And he says, ‘Tommy, what’s the matter?’ And he says, ‘Preacher,’ he says, ‘your house is on fire!’ And we had no insurance. My dad looks at him and says, ‘Well Tommy, how bad is it burned?’ He said, ‘Preacher…I can stand outside and see your furnace. Your house is a total loss.’ My father goes, ‘Hallelujah, Tommy I’ve been trying to get you to church for years now why won’t you come to church?’ [Tommy] started crying even harder and says, ‘You mean you just lost everything but the clothes on your back and you’re trying to get me to come to church?’ My father says, ‘If the lord wants it to burn then let it burn.’
Of course when we got there, for miles around that dirt road on both sides of the road there were neighbors from miles around. And I saw my mama weep…. But the community came together…Within 3 or 4 months we had a 3 bedroom brick home in the same spot. And that brick home is still there…”
As a young adult, Eric fell on hard times. He struggled with addiction to drugs and was incarcerated a few times. Eric hasn’t had a home, red brick or otherwise, to call his own in 7 years. Life on the streets is incredibly hard. Eric describes how, “Just a few years ago I had three guys jump me for no reason. They beat me to death… I was bloody from head to toe… And all they got was a 10-ride bus pass.” Other friends were not as fortunate and lost their lives on the streets.
Eric found a support team at King’s Kitchen, where he worked for a year. King’s Kitchen is a public restaurant with a social mission. The restaurant donates all proceeds to feeding the poor and also partners with organizations like the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Dream Center to employ and train people struggling with issues such as homelessness or a criminal record. Through King’s Kitchen, Eric became a volunteer with “Adopt a Block,” a Dream Center program with volunteers going door to door in neighborhoods, offering to clean, mow lawns and distribute food or other necessities.
Eric’s favorite part of volunteering was becoming part of the communities he served. Neighborhoods that initially viewed the volunteers with trepidation began to welcome them as part of the community. Eric loved meeting the people and the kids, with whom he made quite a name for himself.
“They call me Little Birdy and the reason is because the littlest one, she’s knee high, about 4 years old. We picked them up one Sunday. She was sitting back there, you know you could tell she probably just woke up, she was frowning so I look back there and I start going…” Here Eric pauses to let out a spell of light whistles, “I started doing bird calls. Next thing you know she’s smiling, giving me high fives. Now all the kids call me Little Birdy. Now I bet they don’t even know my real name.”
Eric has stayed a strong and generous member of our community despite the incredibly difficult challenges he has faced. He laments the fact that his homelessness held him back from doing even more for the community. As of January 17th that has changed. His neighbors have come together once again, and through the Urban Ministry Center, Eric has a new apartment at Moore Place. It has yellow siding rather than red brick, but it is still home. Community driven initiatives have brought Eric home twice in his life but there are many others who are still out in the cold. If we follow Eric’s example of dedication to our neighbors, we can change that.