Finally Home: A Conversation with Mr. Charles Davis

Mr. Charles Davis is used to advocating for himself. The journey to his current home in Mercy Housing California’s Madonna Residences was long and winding — but he looks back on it with pride.

“After I moved in here, I felt more comfortable and more at ease with myself,” said Mr. Davis. “I didn’t have to share a room with nobody, I got to decide when to come in and go out, and I feel free, like a bird out of the cage.”

In 2015, Mr. Davis was living with relatives in Florida. “I would stay with my son, then my daughter, then my sister, then my nephew,” he recalled, describing what’s known as sheltered homelessness. “I considered myself homeless because I didn’t have a place of my own.”

When things didn’t work out at his relatives’ homes, Mr. Davis saved up enough money for a plane ride to Oakland, where he’d heard there might be space at an assisted living facility. As luck would have it, he never made it to Oakland — his flight was rerouted to San Francisco International Airport. Disoriented, he asked a fellow traveler for directions to the subway and ended up in the Tenderloin district.

“The first couple of nights I came here, I stayed on the streets,” said Mr. Davis. “Then someone gave me directions to a shelter.” He stayed there for two weeks, then met with a case manager who brought him to San Francisco General Hospital.

Mr. Davis, who uses a motorized wheelchair, spent the next two years moving between various skilled nursing hospital wards. His story is not unusual: given the extreme lack of affordable housing in the Bay Area, it can take years for people who have experienced homelessness to find a permanent home, even those who are working with a case manager.

After two years of searching, Mr. Davis finally found an opening at Madonna Residences. Four months after applying, and two full years after arriving in San Francisco, Mr. Davis moved into his new home.

Like many residents of permanent supportive housing, Mr. Davis was able to transition into a largely independent way of life after finding a stable place to live. He works with a caregiver for some household tasks and touches base with his property manager if anything goes wrong with his apartment. A former chef, he spends much of his time writing recipes and menus, and is working to get a book published as well. Though he sometimes misses the snow in his old hometown of Denver, Mr. Davis has found respite at Madonna Residences.

“I’m proud that I have my own place and it’s quiet,” he said. “I have no problems, you know, I feel at peace with myself.”

Mr. Davis’s Sweet Potato Pie recipe

2—3 cooked sweet potatoes
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 capful of lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

Whip up a few cooked sweet potatoes. Add a stick of melted butter and a cup of white sugar and mix it up. Add two eggs and mix it up again. Then, add a capful of lemon juice, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, a little cinnamon, nutmeg, and honey, and mix it up very well. Pour it into a pie shell and bake it at 300 degrees for about an hour. After pie cools, wrap it in aluminum foil and set it on the counter overnight.