GASTONIA, NC (WBTV) – Time goes slow when you’re homeless. Melissa Dossett knows. Her mind wanders hour after hour as she sits on sidewalks, seeking shade in parking lots throughout Gastonia.
“You have nowhere to go, nowhere to be, nothing to do,” she said. “You’re walking around trying to do anything to get away. I don’t want to be that person anymore.”
The person Melissa Dossett doesn’t want to be is someone who has struggled for two decades to get out of the suffocating weight of a crack cocaine addiction. This is never the life she imagined. But the drug grabbed her in 2003 and hasn’t let go since.
“It took everything from me. And I came back from it a few times and it didn’t last long,” she said.
Melissa has been on the street every now and then for years. But in February, she and hundreds of other chronically homeless people in Gaston County were placed in a hotel after becoming eligible for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, federally funded by COVID aid dollars and distributed by Gaston County.
Gaston County’s Department of Social Services says they have spent nearly $15 million helping residents in nearly 2,000 homes through ERAP.
Between July 2021 and May 2022, ERAP paid for more than 350 hotel rooms for people like Melissa.
The 49-year-old says she thought the program would help her find a permanent place to live, but in late May, Melissa and others living at the hotel were told to move out by June 1.
“I’ve been on the phone for two weeks, where am I going? What am I doing? I tried,” she said.
Melissa had just received her new ID card and was starting to apply when her progress came to an abrupt halt.
She now sleeps behind a building downtown. Everything she owns is in a white garbage bag that she drags from place to place.
Finding a job seems like an ominous task if she has nowhere to bathe.
“I feel forgotten,” Melissa said.
According to Gaston County, their Department of Social Services decided they would use the limited ERAP funds to help other families already living in permanent housing pay utilities and rent.
Gaston County said it offered several resources to people like Melissa, saying:
“We spent weeks advising individuals who were in hotels supported by ERAP funding that we were moving to other options. There were numerous information sessions in those hotels for the people who would be affected, and more than 100 people attended those sessions. Information included included job placement, employment, education, training, and mental and physical health services in our community. Gaston County DSS, along with our Homelessness Prevention Committee, continues to work with numerous partners in our community, including the Salvation Army and Continuum of Care, to connect individuals with housing and other resources.”
Melissa is desperate for help. She makes no excuses for her past, but knows that getting clean is nearly impossible without stability.
“I’ve made my mistakes and I can’t go back and correct them,” she said. “But I’m trying to do something different with my life.”
When asked what Melissa sees for her life, what she dreams about, she could not answer. “I don’t know now,” she said.
“Is it so hopeless?” Melissa was asked. “Yes,” she replied.
Hopeless – because wanting something very badly – a job, sobriety, a place to sleep – is not always enough when you live on the street.
“I just don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know where I’m going.”
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