Family Focus

Living in a car is a reality for growing Charlotte homeless population

A little over a year ago Antonio Mayes was living in an apartment that had the essentials — running water, a hot shower, kitchen and a place to lay his head at night.

Now, the 40-year-old is sleeping in his car.

A number of setbacks got him to the place where he is today. Some of those setbacks were his and others the result of organizations not following through to assist.

Instead, the Charlotte native has to find a place to sleep, each night.

“It’s a struggle, obviously. It’s very hard dealing with all of that. You got all this stress, you’re not getting much sleep, you don’t get food,” Mayes said.

The stress, uncertainty and shame can be crushing, and it has affects his mental health and physical well-being.

“It’s really hard. Guys who don’t have a vehicle and they’re running around and they’re not getting the help they need,” he said. “You just got a lot of people prejudging them and pushing them aside. They kick you when you’re down basically.”

For those without a home, a recent eviction or financial woes can make it difficult to be tenants elsewhere.

Even if they’re working, they are often unable to save for the first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit for an apartment. To have a roof over their head, many sleep in their car, every night.

Low- to moderate-income Charlotteans who don’t own their own homes are being bombarded by skyrocketing rents, low living wages and a shortage of affordable housing.

“People are not getting enough love out here.” Mayes said. “As Martin Luther King Jr said, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’”

Applicants for subsidized housing in Charlotte face years on a waiting list. Those who need emergency shelter often find beds full and people resort to sleeping in their car or on the streets.

“Be understanding and helpful because they don’t know the person’s situation, they don’t know why they’re in this situation, they just think he or she is down and out so they’ve done something to get here,” he said.

Ignoring the housing crisis has driven Mayes and countless others to live in their vehicles.

While this solves one problem it can create other problems — like where to park at night and how to maintain hygiene.

For people with no place to call home, they often need to clean themselves in a bathroom at a gas station or wherever they can find a sink with running water.

Occasionally, Mayes uses the services of Project Outpour which provides mobile shower access to people moving through homelessness, alleviating suffering and promoting holistic health and dignity.

“We are passionate about acknowledging the existence of others,” said Laura Gorecki, chief dignity officer for Project Outpour. “We advocate for human rights and dignity.”

“I think everything will be alright. We just need more love, more understanding,” Mayes said. “I’m not someone that has done something to deserve what I’m going through. Even if I did, there needs to be more compassion for (the homeless).”

The daily toll has been overwhelming at times on Mayes. But he remains hopeful that he may move into an apartment in October.

While reflecting on the past trauma over the past 20 years that has been a heavy burden, a smiling Mayes looks forward to that day he’ll have a place to call home.

“I’m just a guy that’s trying to build his life up and build a foundation strong enough so I can help other people,” he said.  “I’m trying to make it just like everybody else. I’m a good guy, I work hard, I love hard and I’m very compassionate.”

If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, public affairs manager at WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte, at Kevin.Campbell@wsoctv.com.

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