OVERLOOKED: Organization giving Charlotte's homeless the attention they deserve
CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - What is it like to grow up without a home? No room or stuffed animals for a kid to call their own? That's the only childhood Arthur Abrams ever knew, being bounced from one place to the next - 21 different foster homes, to be exact.
"It was very hard because, when you look around you and you see people that have mothers and fathers as opposed to me not having a mother and father, it was like, wow. So that's what it's like," Abrams said.
New York was home for Abrams until one day when he decided to head south.
"I just decided I didn't want to be in New York anymore and my mother was born in Mobile, Alabama, so I wanted to see what the South was about," he said.
Abrams didn't know what he was searching for, but the cranes hanging over a Carolina city made him stop.
"I said wow, something is happening here. Maybe I could be a part of it," Abrams told WBTV.
He had no family here. No friends or contacts. But Abrams is always up for a challenge. He knew he'd be homeless when he left New York, but headed for a shelter since he thought it would be better than camping out on the street.
"I didn't really want to go there. But I figured it can't be worse than places I'd been in my life. So I went in," he said.
Teresa Kitchen knows what shelter life is like. She's called the Salvation Army Women's Shelter home for the past six months. But Kitchen is used to struggles. It's taken a while for her to even feel like herself.
"I didn't feel like the person... like, I was in the wrong body," she said.
Kitchen was born male. She starkly remembers a realization hitting her in the face when she was just 8 years old.
"I felt more feminine, more womanly. Because that's how I felt. I don't feel masculine. I don't feel dominant. I felt like a female," she said.
Kitchen was 16 when she decided to transition.
"When I came out, I came out on Facebook. I put it out on social media. I said you know what? Let me be vulnerable. Let me take it out of my comfort zone, and say you know what? This is going to be me. I said, screw it. If no one is going to accept me, I'm going to accept myself," she said.
With no family support, Kitchen found herself homeless, hooked on drugs and prostituting herself for the next fix. But faith is everything to her, so when you ask about her wakeup call, she's quick to point up.
"God, he gave me three warnings. My first I almost got jumped. Second, I was hit by a pimp. And my third was I overdosed and I said to myself I need to change. I really do," she said.
Meredith Dolhare knows what it's like to struggle with addiction as well. On the outside, everything appeared perfect for her. But that image hardly replicated what was happening inside.
"All the ducks were in a row trying to make everything look good. And those puzzle pieces are going to come crashing down when there's that trauma burning on the inside," Dolhare said.
She was just 16 when she was raped repeatedly by an acquaintance. But instead of talking about it, Dolhare buried her pain deep inside for over a decade.
"For 12 years. So for 12 years, I was completely silent. I didn't tell anyone. I wouldn't talk about it at all," she said.
Dolhare's energy went into sports. She's as hardcore an athlete as they come, a professional, running and biking hundreds of miles through grueling ultra marathons.
But despite all the medals and awards, Dolhare's trauma continued to rear its evil head. The only way she knew to suppress it lived in a bottle and before she knew it, the accomplished athlete struggled with alcoholism.
"Addiction, trauma, substance abuse, none of it discriminates, it's a gene we all carry. I could be the face of addiction. It could be Teresa," Dolhare said.
Humans are more alike that we are different. Our struggles can be unique but also the same. And for proof, look no further than a non-profit off North Tryon Street on Tuesday and Friday mornings. You'll find Dolhare, Kitchen, Abrams, and a dozen others just trying to beat the hand life has dealt them.
Years ago, Dolhare realized her and the homeless man on the street corner fighting addiction weren't that different.
"People don't listen long enough to actually hear their stories. They're just like, 'oh that person's homeless, there's no way. Mental health won't even help them'... They're overlooked," Dolhare said.
So she started "Running Works," a 501c3 working to overcome poverty, homelessness and mental illness through running. Twice a week, they start their meetups with a run, something Abrams didn't do much of until Meredith sprinted into his life.
"I was sitting just on a bench like this and I saw this white girl flying past me. I thought she was in trouble. So I went up to her and said, 'excuse me, do you want any help?' And she said, 'yeah I'm fine,' and that's when she started telling me about the Running Works program," he said.
Now Abrams has his own apartment and dreams of working in radio production.
"It has taught me overall that given the opportunity, you can be anything you want to be," Abrams said.
Meredith is quick to correct anyone who might say her organization is simply a running group for homeless people. They offer mental health counseling and housing assistance to those who attend their weekly life skills sessions.
The morning WBTV visited, they were discussing the new housing opportunities that may finally land Kitchen her own place. She's sober, working and ready to move out of the shelter.
"I want to be stable. I want an apartment on my own. I want to disconnect from all the negative souls. When I get my apartment, I'm not going to be the same person that I used to be," Kitchen said.
RunningWorks is what Dolhare believes she was born to do, so much so that she's at the organization full time and doesn't take a paycheck.
"It's a no-brainer for me to give this much of myself. Sure I get tired but it's what I was made to do," she said.
A chance is the key things she's offering a group of people that feels forgotten. And that chance is all Dolhare thinks they really need to change it all.
"I am hell bent on changing the way we see people who are less fortunate. The way we view addiction, the way we view trauma, the way we view mental health issues. I mean, I'm going to forge this path until it is different," she said.
Spend just a few minutes with Dolhare and it's obvious that she's determined. But she has proof on her side. Now, the people who were overlooked, just ask you to shift your glance towards the man or woman suffering on the sidewalk somewhere, maybe you'll discover your more alike that you are different.
"One of the misconceptions is everyone is under a bridge with a paper bag, everybody is flying signs, which means panhandling. People can't read. They're uneducated. They're unmotivated. And I have found that to be the furthest from the truth," Dolhare said.
WBTV's Sarah-Blake Morgan is a RunningWorks ambassador. She is working to raise funds for the organization so they can help more of Charlotte's homeless population. If you're interested in donating, click here.
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