A photo of a church
Kaptain Karrot/Flickr

For years William Robert Carter didn’t know how to live without alcohol or drugs. He worked so he could be around people-and steal from them. 

Then one day in 1995 while working at the Central Union Mission, someone asked him, “How would you like to change your life?” 

Right there he began to pray and found his route to spiritual and physical recovery. Carter, now 65, kicked the heroin, cocaine, and alcohol-cold turkey- and has been clean ever since. 

Like other homeless veterans, however, his journey was long and hard and brought him to numerous shelters before he changed his life. 

Born in Fordham Hospital in the Bronx section of New York, Carter was the oldest of five sisters and four brothers. His mom raised all of them by herself. 

He fondly remembers singing around the fire barrel in the Motown days. He finished high school, or at least thought he did. There was a misunderstanding with his name. The school had a diploma for Robert Carter, not “William Robert Carter.” 

The mix-up was never resolved and from 1956 to 1958 he served in the Army and was stationed in Germany.  

Carter first became homeless in 1990 after being released from prison in Boston, where he was convicted of robbery and spent at least eight years behind bars. 

After his release, he continued to drink and take drugs and was forced to run from the authorities. He traveled by train but was ordered off in Washington by a conductor who threatened to have him arrested. He arrived at the shelter at 2nd and D streets, NW. 

But he was kicked out for doing drugs. He then went to the Central Union Mission at 14th and R streets, NW, where he decided to kick the habit and got a job in the laundry room. He was able to save some money and in 1991 found a room on 17th Street, NW, between P & O, and was baptized. 

But he soon learned the neighborhood was a “shooting gallery” where drug use was common. 

Some Church volunteers found him a spot at Camp Bennet in Brookville, Md. A family that ran the camp asked him to stay and do maintenance. He did everything, including electrical and plumbing jobs. He was the ultimate handyman. 

Carter stayed at the camp until 1994, when the administration found out he was an ex-con. 

Thinking he would be fired, he bought a 40-ounce bottle of beer. He ended up in the hospital. 

After he got out, he found his way back to the Central Union Mission, where in 1995 he had an encounter with President Clinton and his wife Hillary when they visited the shelter. The president and first lady served him a meal. Carter got a new suit for the occasion and now wears a suit every day. 

A fellow from Central Union Mission took Carter to Christ Our Shepherd Church. He went back into recovery and completed a 12- step program to get clean. He has been free of alcohol and drugs since 1995. 

He now lives in a place of his own and works for Christ Ours Shephard Church. Along with Social Security benefits he supports himself. 

Carter is emphatic when he says, “It’s nothing I have done to change my life: it’s all what God has done and is doing!” 

He is now chairperson of the Hospitals & Institutions Committee, which helps people get off drugs and allows Carter to use his own life story to assist others. 

“I tell my story because that is how I was able to do it, hearing other people’s story,” he says. “God will help them if they ask.” 

Carter tries to help someone every day. He could not sit long to talk because he was off to assist a person moving some items. 

His family has asked him to come to New York this summer to give away his sister at her wedding-because they know Carter is doing better. Much better.