Homeless shelter volunteer shares a personal bond with residents: experience on the street

“I always said, this place, if it wasn’t for them I’d probably still be out on the streets,” Roberts said. “And I figured I at lea...

ROCK ISLAND, Illinois -- A Rock Island man volunteering at Quad Cities homeless shelter once a week is known for his warm smile and his endearing nickname, "Ody." But Odis Roberts says most of all, he likes to be known around Christian Care in Rock Island as a good listener.

Every Wednesday afternoon, takes phone calls and fills out crisis sheets for people who need a place to stay. When it's especially cold outside, Ody helps hand out gloves, hats and other donated items to help keep people warm.

"I still feel bad for the ones that are still out there," Roberts said.

He knows what it's like because he's lived it.

"He was literally experiencing homelessness for a few weeks," said Christian Care Community Outreach Coordinator Steve Gottcent. "He was literally living in his car," he said.

"I thought I could do it on my own," said Roberts. "But there was a point in time out there that it was just too cold for anybody to be out there."

Roberts checked into Christian Care as a resident, where he stayed for a few years and got his G.E.D. He moved out of the shelter and into stable, independent housing for good about a year ago.

Other residents talk to Roberts about their personal challenges with homelessness, alcohol or drug abuse, and other difficulties they face with life on the street because he shares many of their experiences. And while many view Roberts as a mentor, he prefers to think of himself as a "friend who listens."

"I always said, this place, if it wasn't for them I'd probably still be out on the streets," Roberts said. "And I figured I at least owe something back for what they did for me."