Recently I met Ca’Vonn, a struggling mother of six in DC’s Shaw neighborhood who is part of the Tent City DC community at the corner of 7th and R Streets in Northwest. On one of my other visits to the controversial Parcel 42 I met Eric Sheptock. Eric is a homeless advocate who’s life story is as amazing as it is horrific.
He tells me a chilling story about a couple who decided they no longer wanted there eight-month-old baby boy and attempted to murder the child by beating the innocent infant until they cracked his head open and left him to die in a New Jersey motel. Thankfully someone found the bludgeoned baby and rushed him to the hospital. Unfortunately this isn’t an except from a story by Stephen King or Richard Laymon, it’s Eric’s real life story
This stomach churning saga has a happy ending though. Eric survived the ordeal and five years of foster care until he was later adopted by a family in New Jersey: the Sheptocks. If the name sounds familiar, you might have heard about them before. They had seven children of their own and adopted 30 others. That’s quite a family. They have been in the media several times and there was even a book written about them!
Eric and his family moved around in New Jersey and finally settled in Florida. As a young adult he got a job there at a hospital and worked there for a couple of years until he left over a disagreement. He took his final check and decided to go to New Jersey. In 1994 his money ran out and Eric became homeless; a situation that he has maintained on and off since that time. That was not the only tragedy of 1994. On August 11th of the same year his petite 33-year-old girlfriend, a six-pack a day drinker, died of cirrhosis of the liver.
In 2005 Eric was back in Florida living in a tent in the woods. He was fed up with the war that we were waging in Iraq and decided to move to Washington, DC and become an activist. He set out on July 6th which was President Bush’s birthday coincidentally.
He walked and hitchhiked most of the way. He told me several amazing stories about his journey. One that I will share with you is that as Eric was walking through Virginia he came into the town of Farmville late one evening. There were no street lamps there due to some city ordinances or something but he did finally see a light off in the distance. When he got closer he realized that the light was coming from the porch of a church. Despite the porch crawling with large spiders, he made it his resting place for the night. He awoke the next morning, Sunday, to find the spiders replaced by churchgoers. They invited him in to service, fed him and gave him $84 from a collection they passed around for him. He went on his way and was offered a ride by a passerby who ended up driving him almost 50 miles out of his way to a bus stop in Charlottesville, VA. When Eric tried to offer him some money for the gas, the driver refused and actually gave him $20!
Soon after arriving in DC he started advocating to keep the Franklin Shelter open. He met with former Mayor Williams, current Mayor Fenty and others and shook their hand as they promised that they would all support keeping the facility open. Sadly, once in office, Eric says that Fenty closed the shelter.
Eric continues to advocate for homeless members of our community as well as those who have housing but struggle to keep up with rising rental rates. He has over 4,000 friends on facebook and 700 followers on twitter. This is impressive given that he says he didn’t know how to use a computer until four years ago.
With his feet-on-the-ground approach coupled with his efforts in social media, Eric has become the voice for so many who have been muted due to their social and economic situation. He hopes to some day find gainful employment that allows him to secure affordable housing for low-income and homeless individuals. Although he has been successful in doing this for a handful of people, he wants to scale his efforts to a more seismic level.
Eric says he will put $5 on his Metro card and use the remaining $5 for food.
I had the opportunity to record some of his passion for affordable housing for DC residents. The following video is a little long (when I tried to use my free editor, it lowered the quality so bad that I felt it was better to leave in its original uncut format), but very informative. Take a minute to listen to Eric and learn about the current struggles related to affordable housing in our nation’s capital.