Charles Coleman - Transitional Housing Coordinator and Outreach Worker

People or experiences that led me to where I am

People who worked in the recovering community; people who worked in substance abuse and housing; Jim Balmer, President of Dawn Farm

How I got into this field

Charles grew up in hardscrabble Detroit, with profound family struggles, poverty, and eventually alcohol and drugs. Abuse eventually became addiction, then finally a haunting daily habit of booze and crack. Charles spent many years suffering from his addiction. He made attempts over the years to stay clean, trying again and again to find recovery–without success. Charles became homeless, sleeping in his car, hopeless and not knowing where to turn.

Then he heard about Dawn Farm. When Charles arrived at its Detox facility, he was out of options and desperate. A few days later, Charles was among the first group of homeless men who moved into Dawn Farm’s first transitional house. His life changed forever.

“I had always tried to do it alone. But these people–they just won me over. ” Charles stayed sober, worked hard, and one year later he was the House Manager. Eighteen months after that, he was hired as the coordinator of the entire Chapin Street Project. “I got my life back–and so much more.” Charles works with a real sense of mission. Working closely with our Detox and residential Dawn Farm Community of Programs staff–he oversaw the tremendous growth of the Chapin Street Project as one house, then two, eventually becoming 128 transitional housing beds. He also piloted an innovative outreach program to help addicts and alcoholics on the streets.

Charles has helped hundreds of local men and women rise out of addiction and homelessness. But 2004 was a rough year. He was diagnosed with Stage Four Hodgkins Disease. “I wondered why this was happening to me–I was sober and active, and I wasn’t prepared to get sick.” But during the rigors of chemotherapy, he learned the value of a helping community. “It was an amazing journey. I was forced to humble myself and ask for the help of many people. So many folks rose up to help me.”

Cancer was a hard road. But the community rallied during his treatment–with meals, support, transportation, and tremendous affection for this brave and loving man. Charles beat the cancer–and recently celebrated 10 years of recovery from addiction, as well. “I should have asked for help sooner, ” he says. “I had the gift of desperation–I heard that voice inside, but I was frightened, and I lied to myself. But I had no idea my life could be this wonderful.” His advice to others who are hurting and realize they need help: “Don’t wait–we’ll meet you halfway. If you’re willing to make the effort, we’ll be there to help you. ”

What I like most about my work

Being able to help people change their lives by getting into safe, affordable transitional housing; doing street outreach and working at Detox two days a week.

Volunteer or other experiences you might check out to learn about my field

Volunteer at the local homeless shelter; volunteer at SOS; hospitals, especially in the ER; the local Dawn Farm Detox program.

Challenges and exciting changes I see in my field in the near future

New research in addiction/alcoholism is shedding light on the need for more addiction specialists; economic challenges are leading to more substance abuse so more counselors will be needed.

The kinds of training and education needed to keep up in my field

Knowledge of 12-Step programs. Not required but encouraged: getting an MSW degree or CAC (certified addictions counselor).

Other career fields where my skills could be put to use

Social work, criminal justice, psychology, counseling

How my job impacts my family life

My job affords a lot of flexibility; I appreciate having an intact relationship with my family.

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