From homeless to hopeful

Former homeless local wants to change views on poverty
By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Aug 29, 2014
Photo by: Shelby Harrell Christopher Morrill, 49, is pictured in front of his apartment on Commerce Street before he walks to Meridian Health Services to take classes. He was living in the local homeless shelter before he Meridian helped him secure housing through its Shelter Plus Care program.

Haywood County residents who have seen a middle-aged man walking the sidewalks of Commerce Street in Waynesville may have caught a glimpse of Christopher Morrill — a man who’s on a mission to change the way people view poverty.

When people hear the word “poverty,” many stereotypes and stigmas associated with poverty come to mind — and no one knows this better than Morrill, 49, who’s been living in poverty for years.

Though he recently left the Haywood Christian Emergency Shelter and has moved into a humble apartment through the Meridian Health Services Shelter Plus Care program, he’s still reaching for more. Through the program, Meridian pays his rent and his electric bill as long as he attends classes.

“Being off the streets, you can’t imagine the physical and psychological impact it has to be able to cook your own meal and change clothes,” Morrill said, adding that he had to cook his own food because he had hypoglycemia. “It makes you want to strive to do more.”

With the help of Circles of Hope and Meridian Health Services in Haywood County, he’s determined to change his life and make a difference in the community.

“The main thing that’s important to me is bridging the gap of the socioeconomics of us vs. them,” Morrill said, his voice slightly winded from nervousness. “The people living in poverty and the people living on the streets…it’s the same stigma. People look at us a certain way.”

“Circles fit right into helping bridge that gap,” Morrill added. “We’re trying to erase that prejudgment — it still happens every day, and we’re trying to erase that.”

Morrill doesn’t spend much time at home because he prefers to stay active and busy — whether he’s volunteering at The Open Door Ministry, working with Circles of Hope or taking classes at Meridian.

Since Morrill was adopted, he doesn't have any family or relatives to reach out to for support, so being around other people helps him deal with his mental health issues, like depression, that he struggles with.

To help his mental health, Morrill also receives cognitive behavioral therapy at Meridian — something that has inspired him to become a peer support specialist, and he became officially certified last week. A peer support specialist is a person who has progressed in their own recovery from alcohol or other drug abuse or mental disorder and is willing to self-identify as a peer and work to assist other individuals with chemical dependency or a mental disorder.

“I’ve had mental health issues of my own, and I just want to be able to go through the program and continue to take my classes and stay plugged into the community,” he said about Meridian. “I want to show that if I can do it, so can you.”

Morrill said Circles of Hope has also been a “godsend” to him by helping him learn ways he can overcome and stay out of poverty.

“I’m trying to get more tools in my toolbox, so to speak,” he said. “I’m not going to be homeless ever again.”

‘Life happens’

Though an introvert, Morrill is eager to sit down and share his life story, even when his nerves get the best of him. Sitting at his small table in his apartment on 14 Commerce St., he looks out of his tiny window, anxious to get outside and walk to his next class.

On his left hand, Morrill wears a rubber bracelet that says F.R.O.G., which stands for “fully rely on God.” The bracelet represents his renewed faith that is leading him on this new path to help others.

“This is my God journey,” Morrill said.

But Morrill hasn’t always been homeless; in fact, before the recession hit in 2008-09, Morrill was a plumber in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area who made six figures a year.

“But life happens,” Morill said. “Jobs may be back, but they are lower paying jobs than before 2008-09. I’m staying on top of that.”

Morrill moved to Haywood County in 2001. After the plumbing business tanked and Morrill lost his job, he extended his unemployment as long as he could, until all his income was gone and he ended up living with friends. Though he sought jobs, over time his lack of employment eventually became an eyesore for those hiring, and he was unsuccessful.

“I’ve been fortunate in the past to stay in friends garage — but then it got foreclosed on and that’s what got me to the shelter,” he said.

Resources like Meridian and Circles of Hope is giving Morrill a comfortable environment where he can become self-sufficient. Some of his goals include working as a peer support specialist at a local agency and eventually getting off of Food Stamps.

“I’m going to be the 1 percent that gets out of all these programs,” he said. “These types of programs can make a difference you just have to want it — and I want it.”

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