At Charlie’s Place, homeless services are managed by someone who has been there
Although the constant narrative for homelessness is doom and gloom, for Reggie Cox, it was a stepping stone to higher heights. Currently standing as the executive director of Charlie’s Place, Cox stands not only as an example, but an inspiration to everyone who walks through those doors.
As a child, Cox was already accustomed to a nomadic lifestyle, moving from Ohio, to New York to D.C., then Baltimore. “I just say I’m a local D.C. resident, because I lived in other places, so I try to condense it a little bit,” Cox said.
His father, who was a professor and attorney, and his mother, who was a nurse, emphasized the importance of education by sending him to private schools and boarding schools. As a young adult, he attended multiple colleges, including Morgan State University, Coppin State University, and the Art Institute of Washington. Being a history and education major, Cox always sought after more knowledge. “I never finished my degree, and, rightfully so, that’s one of the things I’ll be working on,” Cox said. “ I don’t want an education just to get a job, but it’s something that I crave.”
In 1998, Cox was hired by the media monitoring company Burrelles which was headquartered in Livingston, New Jersey, and had a D.C. office on Connecticut Ave. Starting out at entry level, Cox worked his way up and found great success. Everything was going well until 2013, when the company abruptly told the workers they were going to shut down the D.C. office. Cox was confident because he had some money saved up and he figured he could get another job with relative ease. However, this wasn’t the case. “It just didn’t work out that way,” Cox said. “It was a time where there was economic turmoil, a lot of people were losing their jobs, it was bad, man.”
Cox had to think quick. He told his landlord he’d be moving out and he ended up renting a room from a friend he ran into for a six-month period. Although he had put out his resume for potential employers, there were no responses. “I had to make a decision, it’s either I need to hold on to some money because I don’t know what’s going to happen, I can’t just keep paying rent and not have any income coming in,” Cox said. Cox made a decision. He put some of his things in a storage unit and attended a going away party for his sister. That night would be the first night he slept outside.
“I did have some money, but that was to survive, you know,” Cox said. He would sleep on a bench at Lafayette Park near the White House. It wasn’t as bad at first, but as hypothermia season began to kick in, it became clear survival outside was much more than having some money. Police officers would often go up to Cox and tell him about places to go, including Charlie’s Place. One night, a hypothermia van spotted Cox and the workers implored him to get out of the cold and into a shelter. Cox, not knowing anything about shelters, declined the offer at first. They pleaded with Cox and he gave way. The place where the workers took Cox was familiar to him. It was Banneker [Text Wrapping Break]Recreation Center, where he used to play basketball and go swimming as a kid. “It felt odd to be coming back in that situation,” Cox said. He wasn’t let inside immediately due to other activities, such as karate and yoga class taking place in the recreational center, leaving him to stand out in the cold again. “You make a lot of these mental notes and you say to yourself if you’re ever in a situation to help, what would you do?” Cox said.
Cox took it upon himself to visit Charlie’s Place for the first time. As he approached the doors, volunteers eagerly greeted him while nurses asked to check his blood pressure. The nurses told him he had high blood pressure, to Cox’s surprise. Volunteers continued to offer him things such as T-shirts and a hot meal. “The atmosphere was nice, man, it was calming,” Cox said. He recalled being able to sleep well because of the soothing atmosphere. Cox would volunteer and assist the floor coordinator on a day-to-day basis, becoming more acquainted with the work and everyone walking through the doors. Eventually, the program director recognized Cox’s work ethic and determination and hired him as the Executive Director. “I believe in you making your destiny,” Cox said. “Sometimes destiny come upon you and you gotta seize it and then sometimes you gotta make your own destiny.”