The Working Homeless Part 10: From homeless to housed

Published: February 23, 2022 10:55 AM EST
Updated: February 23, 2022 2:36 PM EST

“We’ve never been a nation that has given up on our own people. And to me, that’s the most important thing.”
– Michael Raposa, CEO, Saint Vincent de Paul CARES

From homeless to housed. After nearly two months in the pipeline for public housing help in Lee County, a Fort Myers man has a roof over his head. WINK News investigative reporter Céline McArthur shows you who helped the Fort Myers man and how in our special series, “The Working Homeless.”

It’s a story that began at the Edison Mall bus stop back on December 2nd, the day I first met Brent Grayson. He didn’t look homeless and quickly explained why.

“I can be the part, but I am not acting the part,” said Grayson.

Grayson works at The Oasis Restaurant in Fort Myers during the day, and at night he was sleeping outdoors on cardboard anywhere he could find a safe spot. He could not find an affordable place that would also accept a convicted felon.

That struggle is over.

MOREClick here for continuing coverage in The Working Homeless series

“The day I got the key, I was kind of like, I was excited,” says Grayson. “But at the same time, I was like, is this a dream?”

He’s in a one-bedroom apartment with the amenities he’s missed, including a roof.

“The first night it was, man, it was like in heaven. It rained that night so it felt good to be in here,” says Grayson. “It’s no more let me go hide behind a bush or let me go look for another building to go hang out.”

Grayson also loves having a closet again.

“Oh, my Lord it felt so great,” says Grayson.

It makes it much easier to look and feel presentable, something he prioritized even on the streets.

“That’s how I had been before I was homeless. That’s how I always dressed, so I told myself I’m staying that way,” says Grayson.

The non-profit St. Vincent de Paul CARES helped Grayson get there.

“We have housed 2,140 homeless people since the beginning of the pandemic,” says Michael Raposa, CEO, St. Vincent de Paul CARES.

Raposa says 175 individuals and families are here in Southwest Florida.

“We’re good at it. It’s our specialty,” he said, adding that, “In most instances, over 92%, for the rest of their lives, they never come back to the system.”

He explains why.

“What we see on the back end of this process is that once we put people into housing, they fight to stay in housing. They never want to go back to the trauma of homelessness, and we support them,” says Raposa. “This is not a complicated problem.”

But it is a challenging one.

“We never competed with the fair market housing. Affordable housing and fair market housing were almost at two completely polar ends of the spectrum. But because of the pressure, the increase in rent, for example, in the fair market housing, many of those people are starting to look at affordable units in affordable neighborhoods where they probably wouldn’t have lived before,” says Raposa.

Saint Vincent de Paul CARES works hard to maintain community relationships in order to preserve affordable rental options.

“We can’t do this without amazing landlords—willing landlords that were willing to rent at an affordable rate and a time when they could get greedy. Please don’t get greedy,” says Raposa.

Grayson has a one-year lease, and with public assistance, pays about 500 dollars a month. With this stable housing, he’s now searching for a second job to help him get ahead.

“There is a job for everybody,” says Colleen Depasquale, President and CEO, Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce.

But Depasquale can’t say how many working homeless are employed by local businesses.

In December, Colleen Depasquale told me she would reach out to the Chamber’s more than 700 members to see what she could find out.

“When you and I first talked about this, we did a survey, like talk to me, do you have this population working for you? I didn’t get any response,” says Depasquale.

And months later, she doesn’t know why.

“Who knows, right? It’s… you don’t know. And I think that’s a big gap that you’ve made us recognize that we don’t know, who’s working for us,” says Depasquale.

While she commits to searching for answers, St. Vincent de Paul CARES work to help Grayson, and others like him continue.

Raposa believes divine intervention and our media attention helped get the job done.

“I believe that you were there on that day with that officer for a purpose. And I think that you helped shine some light on something that is a critical concern in this community,” says Raposa. “Your presence there was not an accident.”

Brent agrees. “You guys just gotta have faith, you know? You just gotta believe in yourself, and if you want something in life, just fight hard and you’ll get it,” says Grayson.

Grayson also got a promotion at The Oasis Restaurant, from dishwasher to preparing cold food. He says the staff is like family and they respect him for what he says matters most—who he is now and his work ethic.

Have a story you want me to investigate? Email me at [email protected]

Continuing Coverage: The Working Homeless Series