Kirk Roberson said he was so thankful to get a 308-square-foot studio apartment at a recently opened supportive housing complex that he searched his caseworker's back for wings.
Not too many months ago, Roberson, 52, was living on the streets ironically, to avoid negative influences that might lead to relapse of addiction.
On Thursday, he was the star of a program packed with dignitaries, experts and advocates on hand to dedicate Boulevard Court, an adaptive reuse of a building that was a longtime crime magnet on Stockton Boulevard.
Nonprofit developer Mercy Housing's Boulevard Court offers permanent supportive housing for disabled and formerly homeless Sacramento County residents. A $23 million renovation and years of hard work turned the former 101-room Budget Inn into 74 housing units. The secure facility also has a computer room, medical facilities, counseling offices and on-site laundry.
Residents pay 30 percent of their income from Social Security and other sources as rent.
To provide on-site services, Mercy Housing partnered with The Effort and Turning Point community programs.
The project had to overcome concerns from area residents and opposition from then-Sacramento City Councilwoman Lauren Hammond.
"I didn't want the project at all," Hammond said in a phone interview with The Bee. She said she was happy to be wrong about it.
"It's what the neighbors deserve, and it's what the clients deserve," Hammond said.
Some community activists worried that the project would add people fighting drug addiction or battling mental illness to the neighborhood, rather than provide housing for those who already live nearby.
The project also refreshed the long-standing debate over how long users should be sober before they qualify for subsidized housing.
Despite an afternoon rain shower, it was all smiles on Thursday.
"Housing is just as important to mental health as treating the illness," said Michelle Callejas, a program manager with Sacramento County's Department of Health and Human Services.
Tyrone Thibeaux, 56, was content to stay in his room while the people who made his housing possible took time to congratulate each other.
"I'm putting my life back together," said Thibeaux, who noted he's in his fifth year of sobriety. "As long as you play by the rules, everything is OK."
He said the location, near Stockton Boulevard and Fruitridge Road, has its perks.
"It's convenient. I have everything I need across the street," Thibeaux said.
Roberson a drug court graduate and one year sober can't say enough good things about the housing program, but he's not planning on staying long.
"I want to be independent. I want to leave this place and give (this room) to someone else that needs it," he said.
Members of Roberson's family, including his 85-year-old father, came to celebrate his progress.
Roberson said he has struggled for many years generating a criminal file that dates back to 1984 and that this is the first time he's had a place of his own.
He said his life is back on track and he's looking for work. Holding back tears, he said he's thankful to be back in his children's lives.
Roberson said Nat King Cole's song "Straighten Up and Fly Right" served as inspiration.
"I have straightened up," he said, "and Boulevard Court has provided the runway for me to take off."