Mario, Charlotte

Mario’s apartment is at the back of a well-manicured apartment complex, owned by Ginkgo Properties, on the East side of Charlotte. It’s warm for early February. A bus lets out a rider at the property entrance. A man carries a child and birthday balloon to a car. It is peaceful and quiet in the complex — something Mario mentions often.

“If I would have thought about this three years ago, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible.” — Mario

As we round a hill, Mario’s already waiting outside. He’s still in his uniform after having completed a shift as a truck driver – the job he’s had for the last two years. After a quick handshake, we’re hurriedly off to the already open door of his home – the first he considers his own at 45.

Mario is one of Lotus Campaign’s Landlord Participation Program participants. He’s lived here for nine months, a joyful reality made possible by Lotus and its partners but uncharacteristic for those with similar histories.

Mario has been to prison for robbery and other charges. “Between 16 and 27, I spent more time in than out,” he said.

His drug addiction started at 13, and before last year, he was homeless.

“Once I learned the true definition of homeless, I realized I’ve experienced it my whole adult life,” he said. “There was a time or two I had an apartment in my own name, but that was for maybe a total of a year.”

These tough and intimate details of a person’s life, while symptoms of broken systems, are obstacles when applying for housing. But without a home, rebuilding other parts of a life is nearly impossible.

“It’s hopelessness,” said Mario. “You have no idea where you’re going to stay – whether you’re going to be cold, warm, whether you’ll have food, or peace of mind. It’s constant change. You can’t focus on anything but day to day and what you’ll do in the next couple hours. You can’t live for tomorrow.”

For nearly five years, Lotus Campaign has removed the risk for landlords to rent to people like Mario. Using private capital, Lotus guarantees rent and other securities on market- rate units to offset credit checks and rental histories for people experiencing homelessness. All program participants also receive ongoing coaching from our social service partners, ensuring that they develop the necessary skills to stay healthy and housed. Landlords make no financial concessions and previously homeless people move into unstigmatized housing and thriving communities in a matter of days.

“If I would have thought about this three years ago, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible,” said Mario. The television is on in Mario’s home. It’s toasty warm. Something is cooking. There’s word art on nearly every wall. A poem titled “Don’t Quit” is in the living room. “Home” hangs above a glass dining table. A line about faith is in the kitchen.

There’s a sectional he tells us is the first piece of furniture he’s ever picked out himself. Steam is rising from a pot – rice and lima beans. “I’m trying to eat healthier but that’s a job in and of itself,” he says, smiling.

When asked what he loves most about his new home, he mentions the couch and the stove nearly immediately. After a pause he adds, “And my flowers.” “I try to keep them alive – maybe not to the best of my ability, but they are still living,” he said.

A picture of a woman sits below the leggy vine – his late wife who died from drug use last year.

“She was the love of my life,” he said. “She left Charlotte and 15 days later she was gone. She was instrumental in getting me into recovery and made sure I got to detox.”

Her help mattered. Despite immense loss and trauma, Mario’s still sober – three years now.

While he’s housed in the Lotus program, he continues to receive ongoing support through Hope Haven, a local addiction recovery organization. This lasting support provided to all program participants has proven to be instrumental in keeping them housed – so much so that nearly 97% of the residents we house graduate from their programs and go on to support themselves.

Mario can envision that for himself – and more. “My life has changed tremendously,” he said.

“I can now work on my goals. I want to be a homeowner one day. Now my kids are able to come visit. I have a stable place to stay. I have food to cook. I can turn on the AC. It’s peace of mind.”

He says goodbye and walks back through the door to his home. At the base of the doorframe, a rock sits with the word gratitude painted on it.

He turns around to reiterate an offer to share his story with others.

“I can’t thank Lotus enough for what they do,” he says one last time. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

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