The Transylvania Times -

Eric Edwards Returns From D.C. Homelessness Conference – Brevard, NC

 

August 8, 2019

Eric Edwards

On July 23, 2015, Eric Edwards sat in his apartment in Rutherfordton, N.C., with a bottle of Jim Beam, ready to end his life.

Fast-forward four years later to July 23, 2019, and Edwards was in Washington, D.C., speaking in the Rayburn Building to lawmakers, including U.S. Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, and U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry and David Price, during a three-day national conference on ending homelessness.

The conference is the nation's largest convening of service providers, leaders, advocates and consumers working to end homelessness in the U.S.

"I went as a delegate with lived experience, having been formerly homeless, to share my story," Edwards said.

Today, the Brevard resident is a steering committee member for the N.C. Coalition to End Homelessness' Champions for Change, a member of Civitan, a coach for the Special Olympics, a Brevard Housing Authority board of directors member, a participant in the Getting Ahead program at the Sharing House and is currently a corporate compliance officer at the Transylvania Association for Disabled Citizens.

"I've got a full plate," he said.

In 2015, though, he was disconnected from others and unable to deal with the loss of his son, Dylan, who died of leukemia on Feb. 19, 2012, at 5 years old.

"I had gotten rid of all memories of him and mentally blocked it out, pretending it never happened, until finally I just snapped, and I was forced to take leave of absence from my job," he said.

He worked as a lab technician after getting a degree in environmental science at Western Carolina University, and he had worked there 10 years.

"After losing the job, I buried myself in drugs and alcohol," he said.

Though he always drank, he said at this point it had become a daily ceremony.

When he hit bottom that moment in 2015, he called the crisis hotline, and a person named Mark, whom he never saw again and whose last name he never knew, showed up at his apartment 45 minutes later and drove him to the Neil Dobbins detox center, where he had to be put on phenobarbital to prevent seizures.

From there, he entered a rehabilitation center in Moultrie, Ga., appropriately called Turning Point. Having no one in his life, it was suggested to Edwards that he come to The Haven, an 18-bed, co-ed homeless shelter in Brevard.

"I came here the day before Christmas not knowing a soul, with two black trash bags in my car," he said.

He then moved into public housing off West Morgan Street, where the manager of the Brevard Housing Authority suggested he get involved in the Champions for Change, the national group that is an extension of the N.C. Coalition to end Homelessness.

Edwards had been living in public housing for 18 months when he was selected for a Habitat for Humanity's 63rd home in Transylvania County and its 36th home in the City of Brevard. He moved into that house in December 2017.

Edwards made his first trip to Washington in 2018, where he spoke in support of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) McKinney-Vento Bill.

"It was passed in Congress in 1987 by Patrick McKinney and Bruce Vento, one a Democrat and one a Republican, and it funds Continuum of Care programs, and emergency shelter grants, which is how homeless shelters get their funding and pay their bills," he said. "This year, we were proposing $2.9 billion dollars for shelters nationwide."

He called the 2018 journey to Washington "a whirlwind," but said he was "much calmer this time around" because he knew what to expect.

"That first time I had never been above North Carolina, so I was just trying to take it all in," he said. "This year, I was familiar with working with the legislature, setting up meetings and contacting people to get them to be a part of the delegation."

His only hiccup was the post-surgery shoulder that, because of discomfort, prevented him from flying in closed quarters to Washington.

Instead, he drove so he could make frequent stops to stretch out his arm. But for Edwards, it wasn't an inconvenience because he said he looks for any chance to "pay it forward."

"I just feel like I need to be an advocate because doors were opened for me, so I take full advantage to take any opportunity to shine a light on, not just the drugs and alcohol problems, but the homeless community as well," he said.

Today, he goes to therapy and recovery meetings, performing the task of what he said his therapist calls "peeling off the layers of the onion to see why we do what we do," which, he said, leads him further "into liberation."

"Never let your circumstances dictate what your future holds," is what he tells people who may be struggling.

"And always know that no matter what you are going through, there is a light, and I want my life to be an example of that, because if I can make it, anyone can," he said.

 
 

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