GASTONIA, N.C. (WBTV) – Time moves slowly when you’re homeless. Melissa Dossett knows. Her mind wanders hour after hour as she sits on street sidewalks and searches for 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 whatever you can do to just get away. I don’t want to be that person no more.”
The person Melissa Dossett doesn’t want to be is one who has spent two decades fighting to crawl out from underneath the suffocating weight of a crack cocaine addiction. This is never the life she imagined for herself. But the drug took hold of her in 2003 and hasn’t let go since.
“It took everything from me. And I’ve come back from it a few times and it didn’t last,” she said.
Melissa has been on the streets off and on for years. But in February, she and hundreds of other chronically homeless people in Gaston County were put up in a hotel after qualifying for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, funded federally by COVID relief dollars and distributed by Gaston County.
Gaston County’s Department of Social Services says they’ve spent nearly $15 million to assist residents in nearly 2,000 homes through ERAP.
Between July 2021 and May 2022, ERAP has paid for more than 350 hotel rooms for people like Melissa.
The 49-year-old says she thought the program would help find her a permanent place to live – but in late May, Melissa and others living in the hotel were told they’d have to be out by June 1.
“I was calling for two weeks, where am I going? What am I doing? I was trying,” she said.
Melissa had just gotten her new identification card and was starting to apply for jobs when her progress came to an abrupt halt.
She now sleeps behind a building downtown. Everything she owns is stuffed in a white trash bag she hauls around from place to place.
Finding a job seems like an ominous task when 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 who were already living in permanent housing pay for utilities and rent.
Gaston County said it offered various resources to people like Melissa saying:
“We provided weeks of notice to individuals that were in hotels supported by ERAP funding that we were transitioning to other options. There were numerous information sessions at those hotels for the individuals that would be impacted, and more than 100 individuals participated in those sessions. Information included consisted of 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 to housing and other resources.”
Melissa is desperate for some kind of help. She doesn’t make excuses for her past – but knows getting clean is almost impossible when stability isn’t available.
“I made my mistakes and I can’t go back and correct those,” 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 couldn’t answer. “I don’t know right now,” she said.
“It’s that hopeless?” Melissa was asked. “Yes,” she replied.
Hopeless – because deeply wanting something – a job, sobriety, a place to sleep – isn’t always enough when you’re living on the streets.
“I just don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know where I’m going.”
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