Meet Curtis Robinson
Curtis Robinson found his life’s work in his mother’s kitchen.
“I used to watch my mom cook,” he says. “There were six of us kids, but I was the only one who just stood there and watched her cook. Most 10-year-old kids would go out and play. Not me. I made biscuits. And omelets. And Brussels sprouts. Until one day Mom said, ‘You ever think about being a chef?’ ”
Now 40, he’s worked in kitchens around the city since graduating from high school and a training program at DC Central Kitchen. But his path was not easy, including a mean stretch of homelessness he didn’t see coming and a climb back to stability thanks to timely intervention from Friendship Place.
After high school Curtis moved in with his girlfriend for several years. “The love of my life,” he says. “Everything was great. I was working in the kitchen at a good restaurant while she went to college.”
But then things came crashing down. “She broke up with me. She broke my heart. And the landlord told me he was selling the house in 30 days.”
For the first time in his life he faced being out on the streets. “It was a nightmare. I was so depressed. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat. I wondered how I ended up in this predicament.”
Cold weather drove him into a men’s shelter. He calls his months there the worst experience of his life. “It was like being in a cage. During the day I’d look for jobs. At night there were fights, screaming. One night somebody got stabbed and that was my wakeup call. I can’t do this. I have to change my life.”
In early 2017 right, friends put him in touch with Friendship Place, where he was a perfect fit for their rapid rehousing approach to homelessness: House people first, then provide wrap-around services such as medical care, transportation, help with job placement—whatever they need to be independent and self- sufficient.
Today, two years later, Curtis is still in the same apartment, on the same quiet, tree-lined street. He’s working in the kitchen at Union Market—one of the most popular eateries in the city, and aiming for a promotion later this year.
“I’m walking around with my head high,” he says. “Friendship Place totally changed my life. It’s like having someone walk beside you, to help you figure out this thing called life. A partnership.”