Charles has lived a life of struggle and hardship, having confronted an extraordinary series of challenges due to life-shattering events – a 2005 auto accident left him in a coma for three months and to this day, it is excruciatingly painful for him to walk more than 10 steps.

In 2019, he was tragically attacked by someone in the throes of addiction, wielding a hammer, resulting in the loss of his left eye.

But both traumas pale in comparison to his life-threatening battle with COVID-19 in 2021, which confined him to a hospital bed for nearly 40 days and left him reliant on oxygen tanks to breathe. During this fight for his life, his roommate, assuming Charles would not survive, callously discarded his belongings onto the street.

“I was so close to giving up,” he said. “I don’t know how I managed to keep going. I guess I just held onto that idea that things could eventually get better.”

Barely surviving on $900 monthly disability payments, Charles, then 49, couldn’t afford to get an apartment.

Charles, who stands 6’1” and weighs more than 400 pounds, began living in his Ford Fusion and, when he could, area shelters.

For three years, he struggled with finding food, bathrooms and places to shower. He lived in constant fear of being attacked – a threat magnified by his difficulty walking, breathing and limited eyesight.

“I was distraught,” Charles said. “I was constantly worried about being hassled by the police for sleeping in my car. I was scared because I was homeless during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was terrified that someone could steal my car and then I would have nowhere to sleep but the streets. I don’t like thinking about that time in my life at all.”

He stashed spare oxygen tanks and his mobility scooter at the homes of acquaintances since his car was too small to hold the medical equipment. His oxygen concentrator, a device that compresses and purifies air, was all but useless without an electrical outlet.

“I had no place for my oxygen tanks so I would run out of oxygen and end up back in the hospital,” Charles said.

Ashamed of his situation, he isolated himself from family and friends.

“I’m a big guy, so I never felt comfortable asking my friends and family if I could stay over at their place,” Charles said. “I can’t just go couch surfing – I weigh more than 400 pounds; I would be an inconvenience to everyone. It’s depressing being a big homeless man with hygiene issues since I don’t have regular access to a bathroom. People looked at me differently every day and it was incredibly lonely.”

Then, in late 2023, Charles found a helping hand at National CORE with assistance from the Illumination Foundation – leading to renewed hope. He moved into National CORE’s newly opened Vista de La Sierra affordable housing community in Riverside in January.

Now 51, Charles can finally breathe again now that he’s found a home at Vista de La Sierra, which provides 80 affordable apartment homes to families and individuals who earn 30% to 60% of the area median income. Thirty-nine apartments are reserved for individuals like Charles, who have been homeless.

“It’s overwhelming,” he said. “When I first saw the apartment, I was so glad. The workers gave me a gift basket, and the apartment was fully furnished with a comfortable bed and couch.”

Charles is now back in charge of his life.

He has a place to charge his oxygen concentrator. He’s focusing on maintaining his health and he even wants to work again. He said to keep his mind and body occupied, he has even volunteered to work for free.

Charles also has started rebuilding family relationships now that he has stability in his life.

“It brings tears to my eyes; I don’t know what I would have done without this housing. I might not be alive.” Charles said. “Now I’m getting back on my feet and thanks to National CORE, it’s happening.”