Housing is a Process
“It’s a process, not an event,” says Cameron. After staying outdoors, in abandoned buildings, and shelters over the last 2 years, he’s just moved into a home of his own in Chapel Hill. “I walked in, dropped all my stuff on the ground, that was the beginning.” Cameron was first connected to CEF in 2013 when our Chapel Hill office was still on Franklin Street! “I heard about it and started talking to people in the [Opportunity] Classes!” He met consistently with Advocates, seeking out employment and education opportunities that might expand his natural aptitude and skills for working with all things automotive—all the while, trying to procure and protect a safe place to sleep every night.
He was never really sure that he would have a place of his own. “I thought it would take basically an act of congress.” An abandoned house that he organized as a temporary shelter for himself and his rescue dog Gizmo was often at risk. “I was actually not sure, because where I was—we were being threatened to have the house boarded up and I was getting a sinking feeling from having to deal with that again—always ill-at-ease.” It was an environment that often left Cameron feeling severely underslept and challenged to navigate tasks of daily survival alongside his ongoing pursuit of education, greater income, and housing. “Having to share with several other guys where I was, I didn’t like it a lot. I didn’t feel like I had much of my privacy.”
Collaborating to Connect with a Scarce Supply of Housing
Cameron was able to secure his place through a program called Permanent Supportive Housing Voucher (PSH) managed by the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service (IFC) in Orange County. The program connects individuals that have experienced significant time periods of homelessness to affordable housing and supportive services. CEF identified Cameron as potentially eligible for the program and helped him to navigate each step of the process! Cameron describes CEF as a “force-multiplier.” “If it hadn’t been for CEF I probably wouldn’t have known [about the voucher].”
Cameron worked with CEF Advocates and Debra Vestal, IFC’s PSH Case Manager, to successfully find and move into housing. Permanent Supportive Housing is a key part of the Housing First approach that understands that “people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before attending to anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting properly, or attending to substance use issues.” CEF has worked with the Orange County’s Partnership to End Homelessness to increase collaboration, assessment, and prioritization for the limited supply of PSH vouchers for people like Cameron in the past few years, yet resources are scarce. The HOME Task Force helps to coordinate services and housing for these vouchers but HOME currently has a list of 60 other families that are waiting and working towards the opportunity to have a foundation to move beyond what Cameron calls “survival mode.”
Foundations for the Now
It’s “surreal, very surreal,” he says. “I don’t really show it on the outside but I’ve heard myself say I’m happy—I’m glad. I know I feel a lot more relieved.” Having a safe and comfortable place to sleep each night is essential. For Cameron, it’s a new beginning and the foundation of things to come. “It felt so much better, I felt like I woke up more refreshed, less stressed. Things just kind of took a 180… When I go to the fridge. I think, ‘Hey I was out in the woods not too long ago!’ I don’t even have to think about that anymore. I can cook my own food, which I like to do. I can have hot-served-food and shelter.”
Community and Identity
Sharing in community is a part of how Cameron moves through the world, tapping into his different strengths and abilities. At CEF’s Financial Independence Day this summer, Cameron was honored for his participation and leadership at Opportunity Class and was inducted as a CEF Alumni Ambassador. He has been to over 100 classes, and now often acts as a co-facilitator for class discussions alongside lead facilitator, Mike Wood. He comes each week, helps to set up the room, and is always eager to share and support anyone who comes. “One of my things, is try to be encouraging—to point out the things that they are already doing… ‘Don’t let it discourage you.’”
Cameron is also an artist; his backpack is often filled with a mix of mechanical sketches and abstract designs. The creations were featured in the CEF Art Show last April. “I found it very enriching, I was grateful for the opportunity to show it. Whoever came by seemed to like the flow of it, a lot of people there were able to get a positive result.” His process often combines elements of found-art and collage with vibrant patterns and design.
Cameron is also a regular and co-facilitator at Talking Sidewalks, a weekly gathering of CEF Members and Advocates who come to share life stories, teachings and thoughts in a communal and supportive space. “Here everyone’s giving a voice or an opinion—how we feel—people like that; a soundboard… we come to a place where we can put out our feelings and thoughts and sit and talk and voice.”
Foundations for the Future
Cameron can most always be seen with his sidekick dog Gizmo, one of CEF’s unofficial canine mascots. Gizmo seems to also be enjoying the benefits of the new home that they now share: “I think he’s as happy as I am. I think wherever I am he’s happy to be.” Even more, Cameron doesn’t have to worry anymore about leaving Gizmo at a campsite as he pursues his next step, heading back to school.
“I’ve been working on trying to go to school, and I think having a place will definitely be better, have more advantages. I’ll be more at ease.” This summer he secured grant funding and enrolled in an automotive program at Durham Tech. Previously, Cameron started an automotive training program while still living in the woods, trying to advance his career and make a way for himself. This time around is really different with a secure place to live. Cameron is doing great in his classes, and is able to focus, concentrate and study.
Cameron’s home is the foundation for greater education and the chance to pursue lifelong dreams of working as an automotive mechanic. It’s also a place where he can just enjoy the small things, like making a good meal for himself and his friends. “[We] bought some peppers, some salmon, a red onion, some oil, some romaine lettuce… They took the romaine lettuce and they cut it in half, and I knew how to cut peppers. I basically made this semi-elaborate meal. A really decent meal that I made with sea-salt! I’m trying to do more healthy eating now—sea-salt, brown rice not white rice… It just makes me appreciate now, having come to a better place now.”