Sharon Robinson is still stung by the memory: her possessions piled up outside the home she’d grown up in. After her father died, it became apparent he hadn’t kept up with the property taxes. The house was lost, Sharon and her sisters evicted.
“To come home from work and see that was very devastating,” said Sharon, 54, a client of N Street Village, a charity that’s a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand.
That was in 2009, but things were already tough. Sharon had dealt with physical and mental abuse while growing up. A car accident in 2000 had left her with nerve damage in her back. She was employed — as a dental assistant on Capitol Hill — but her situation worsened after her father’s death. She became homeless in 2015, reduced to sleeping on a relative’s sofa.
When Sharon entered the hospital in 2016 to deal with lingering effects of the accident, the relative made it clear Sharon wasn’t welcome back when she was discharged. A hospital employee referred Sharon to N Street Village. It was a place, she said, where Sharon could regain her “strength, character and dignity.”
At first, Sharon stayed at Patricia Handy Place, an overnight shelter the Village runs in Chinatown. She was there for a little over eight months, returning by 4 each afternoon to be assured a bed that night. She spent her days engaged in activities at N Street Village’s day center near Thomas Circle.
One day in December 2017, Sharon saw that some of the staff at Patricia Handy Place were crying. They were tears of joy: Sharon had been accepted into N Street Village’s permanent supportive housing program.
She now shares a four-bedroom apartment with her roommates. Among her passions is making jewelry, a skill she learned at one of the classes offered at N Street Village.
Pertrina Thomas was apprehensive when her release from the D.C. jail approached. She had no home to go to and was afraid she’d fall into the habits that had cost her her two children and caused a lifetime of pain.
“No, don’t release me to the streets,” Pertrina begged when a jail staffer told her that her release date was imminent.
“I couldn’t believe that I was saying that,” she remembers.
It was spring, the weather was warming up, and Pertrina could imagine herself doing what she’d done so many times before: “ I was going to go right back to having an ice-cold beer.”
But she didn’t. “I was tired of running the streets and going into prison and jail,” she said.
Pertrina waited until a spot opened up in an intensive addiction-recovery program at N Street Village.
“March 16, 2012,” she said. “I won’t forget that date ever in my life.”
Pertrina has found a home at N Street Village. She was among the women who performed at the Kennedy Center in a theatrical presentation called “My Soul Look Back and Wonder: Life Stories From Women in Recovery.”
“Twenty years,” Pertrina, 63, said of the time she spent as an alcoholic and addict. “Not 20 minutes, 20 months, 20 days. I’d been numb all those years.”
“I try to get along with everybody,” said Rico Martinez, 35, a transgender man. (N Street Village welcomes cisgender women, as well as those who have transitioned or are in the midst of transitioning.) Rico was an N Street client when he transitioned.
After gall bladder surgery in 2006, Rico developed a blood clotting disorder that made working difficult.
He became homeless, reliant on shelters and the couches of friends.
“Being homeless is like a shock to the system,” Rico said. “Being homeless is not fun. It’s horrible. . . . You don’t know where you’re getting your next meal from or where you’re laying your head the next night.”
In 2013, Rico began staying at an N Street Village shelter in Luther Place Memorial Church, the church out of which the charity grew in the 1970s. When space opened in the Village’s permanent supportive housing program, he moved there gratefully.
Rico is a member of the N Street Village and Luther Place Ambassadors of Praise, a choir composed of N Street Village clients that was formed in 2013 and has performed around the region, including with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington.
Said Pertrina: “Rico is the heart of N Street Village: very loved and very liked.”
Loved and liked: It’s what all of us want to be.
This is the last column I’ll write about N Street Village during this Helping Hand campaign. My aim over the past eight weeks has been to share the stories of people we sometimes ignore, of how they have turned their lives around, and of the people who have helped them.
You can be one of those helpers. Our goal is to raise $225,000 by Friday. So far, our total stands at $218,722. We’re so close. Please help put us over the top.
To donate to N Street Village, visit posthelpinghand.com. To donate by mail, make a check payable to N Street Village and send it to N Street Village, Attn: Helping Hand, 1333 N St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.