Josh Mitchell and Sherry Ingalls, his caseworker, pose for a photo in Mitchell’s new apartment.

BY MIKE FUHRMAN

Josh Mitchell endured a long, hard struggle before finally finding a dry, safe place to rest his head at night.

Kaylionna, his wife of 15 years, passed away on July 18, 2023, due to complications associated with Covid-19. Then his mother suffered a catastrophic stroke that claimed her life, and a relative sold the family home Mitchell was living in, triggering a series of events that altered the trajectory of his life.

By the end of last August, after moving to Statesville to take a job that never materialized, Mitchell was homeless. After spending a few months at the Fifth Street Ministries Shelter and about two weeks in the Iredell County Detention Center, he wound up living in a remote tent encampment in South Statesville.

“I just got stuck here,” the Hickory native said. “The whirlpool just sucked me in.”

While he was thankful to have a tent on cold and rainy days, it has taken everything Mitchell has — every fiber in his tired body and weary soul — to survive. Balancing his natural tendency to help others who were in the same unfortunate situation with a strong desire not to be assaulted or robbed by meth addicts is difficult, he said.

“You just got to keep going,” Mitchell, 34, said. “Most days you want to give up. I’ve had suicidal thoughts. People ask, ‘Why aren’t you in Broughton?’ I just keep going.”

Mitchell, who has accessed services at Fifth Street Ministries’ Path House since moving out of the shelter, met Sherry Ingalls, a housing case manager for the nonprofit, in February.

That’s when Mitchell started to see a way forward, a way out of a life of hopelessness and homelessness.

Ingalls’ focus is helping chronically homeless people like Mitchell secure permanent housing and access needed services like Social Security benefits, and counseling. She helps her clients find employment – which is challenging if you don’t have an ID, a mailing address, and transportation. While the short-term goal is permanent housing, the long-term goal is self-sufficiency. Fifth Street was awarded a federal grant that will help pay the rent for 75 homeless individuals and provide case management services while they get back on their feet.

Ingalls’ clients have found themselves homeless for a variety of reasons, including death of a loved one, a fire and lost employment. While some are battling addiction and/or an untreated mental illness, that is not always the case, she said.

She is passionate about her job and finds it rewarding on many levels.

“I love it,” she said. “My kids say I’ve ‘found my people.’ I’m so excited for the work they are doing. I tell them I’ll work as hard as you do. And they work hard.”

Mitchell has made great strides in just a few months. He is now working three jobs, including a full-time position at Yokefellow Ministry that he landed after starting as a volunteer.

Parks Deter Property Management representative Gene Shumaker looks on as Josh Mitchell signs his new lease.

On May 15, the best thing happened: Mitchell signed a lease for a small apartment.

About 20 minutes later, Ingalls followed Mitchell deep into the woods, trudging across a makeshift bridge spanning a rain-swollen stream and along a muddy path to the small tent encampment. She helped him carry four suitcases — filled with clothing, a menagerie of stuffed animals that Mitchell calls “his children,” a couple of pairs of shoes and a box of Apple Jacks — to her van, which was parked at the end of a road where $300,000 houses are popping up.

Then they drove across town, and Mitchell walked through the door to his own place. And into his home. It’s modest by just about any standard — a furnished room with a small fridge, microwave, TV and a bathroom accessed by a hallway shared by other tenants.

“I love it — and I get my own couch!” Mitchell said as he bounced on his bed, smiling like a kid on the first day of summer vacation. “I’m just happy!”

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