The Transylvania Times -

Homeless Advocate Shares Struggles, Redemption - Brevard NC

 

August 9, 2018



Brevard resident Eric Edwards knows pain, and he knows defeat. Edwards lost his son, Dylan, to leukemia two years ago, and he turned to substance abuse to cope.

He also lost his wife to grief, his home and almost his life – self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.

But the 43-year-old Edwards found inner strength, and community, in Brevard. When he was at the bottom, two days before Christmas in 2015, he knocked on the doors at The Haven. He spent nearly a year in the homeless shelter off Caldwell Street, cleaning himself up and finally ending up in a home through the Habitat for Humanity program.

Edwards is on the up now and recently returned from Washington, D.C., where he was asked to speak on behalf of the Champions of Change, a national group committed to ending and preventing homelessness in the U.S.

His role was to share his story with staff members in both U.S. Sen. Richard Burr’s and U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows’ offices, and to show his support for several bills making their way across the Senate floor that would directly impact the homeless community.

“I left feeling inspired after attending workshops from 9 a.m. through the evening,” Edwards said. “One of them led me to a new position that has been created – a peer support specialist, advocating for housing – that’s in the works. It’s federally funded, but it would be at Homeward Bound in Asheville, which would be the ultimate dream — to work for the N.C. Coalition to End Homelessness.”

Edwards was chosen to be part of the group through the local housing authority. One bill, which Edwards strongly supports, is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Developement McKinney-Vento Bill, which would ask Congress to allocate $2.8 billion for housing, programming and education centered around the reasons people wind up homeless. In Edwards’ case, and many others, homelessness can be prevented with the right tools. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are an estimated 553,742 people in the U.S. experiencing homelessness on any given night, which equates to 17 people per every 10,000. The largest population to experience homelessness is single adults, many of whom are veterans of war.

In North Carolina, 54 percent of homeless veterans are black, a disproportionate rate, according to the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness. Thirty one percent of veterans experiencing homelessness are in Buncombe County. Statewide, 801 veterans and 67 of their family members experienced homelessness on one night during the last week of January 2018.

Edwards said that this last year in Brevard, there were almost 80 homeless people, who were counted by himself and other volunteers.

“The McKinney-Vento bill helps the school systems and the homeless community,” he said. “It has to be renewed each year. There are also stricter work requirements for public housing, which I do not support. We’re trying to fight that.”

Edwards said homeless people have a tough enough time in Transylvania County finding housing.

He said the wait list can sometimes be upwards of six to eight months. He said transportation is an issue, too, but people walk, they ride bikes, and they try and make it work. Edwards said some of the funding he is fighting for would help with affordable housing and public transportation.

“I like to advocate every chance I get,” he said. “A lot of people get overlooked, and others are not aware of how great the need is. All it can take is one thing, and the next thing you know it snowballs and you’re out on the street. After we lost Dylan, my wife was military and we handled it in different ways. I obviously didn’t handle it the right way. She handled it the military way and reenlisted.”

Edwards said he didn’t really understand the scope of the homeless issue until he experienced it himself and became involved here and in neighboring communities. He said everyone thinks about homelessness in bigger cities, but walking around Brevard it’s hard to tell if a person is homeless or not.

“It’s been a journey for myself in so many different ways — even a college graduate became homeless,” said Edwards, who has a degree in environmental science.

Edwards will be speaking at the Happening for the Haven, the annual fundraiser held at Connestee Falls, on Sept. 14. The event, which raises money for the shelter, includes auctions, live music and a steak dinner.

Haven Director Emily Lowery said Edwards is one of her best friends and that he has come a long way. For her, having someone work at the shelter who has actually lived there makes a huge difference in their day-to-day operations.

“When I first met (Edwards), he had just come to us straight from rehab and was very defeated and depressed. Now, he’s a totally different person,” Lowery said. “He now helps with the Special Olympics and Sharing House. He just gives back so much to the community. He’s like the poster boy for anyone who has come out of homelessness. This is where they need to go. Dreams can be achieved now matter where you come from. That’s the best part of Eric. He hasn’t forgotten where he comes from. It’s still very raw for him and the things that he went through.”

 
 

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