Northern Division: Serving every county in Minnesota and North Dakota
Cliff Robinson portrait

First time ever: Single father has home, job

Added on Monday, February 27, 2017

Story written by Craig Dirkes, writer/photographer for The Salvation Army Northern Division

Clifton Robinson is 36 years old. For the first time in his life, he has a full-time job and his own apartment.

“I am happy now,” said Robinson, a proud resident of Austin, Minn.

Just as importantly, he has become a role model to his 16-year-old daughter, who moved in with him at the start of the school year.

“I’m doing everything a father’s supposed to do,” he said with a smile. “I wish I would have known then what I know now.”

Robinson grew up on the streets of Chicago. At age 3, he and his siblings were taken from their mother and placed into foster care. His first bout with homelessness occurred at age 10.

“I ran away,” Robinson said. “I would sleep on people’s porches, or sleep at friends’ houses for as long as they would let me stay. I would eat at school.”

From that point on, Robinson spent the next seven years bouncing between homelessness and more foster homes. He dropped out of school at age 17.

“I lived the street life in the Chicago projects,” he said. “I was always selling drugs and running from the police.”

That was his life well into his 30s. In 2014 he moved from Chicago to Austin to be with his then-girlfriend, but he still couldn’t stay out of trouble. He wound up in prison for 17 months and was released in May.

His life finally changed when he met The Salvation Army.

Pathway of Hope

Lori Espe portraitIn early August, Robinson came to the Austin Salvation Army in need of food. He wound up meeting with the location’s social services director, Lori Espe (pictured), who told him about Pathway of Hope – a long-term counseling program that helps low-income families out of consistent crisis and into stability.

Robinson was excited to learn more – not only for himself, but for the benefit of his daughter, who would be moving to Austin soon. He was sick of street life and wanted to be a good father and person. But he didn’t know how.

“Living on the streets and living an honest life are two different worlds,” he said. “I needed to learn how to conduct myself in society. I wanted to know how things should be.”

Espe began to teach him. Through their weekly Pathway of Hope meetings, she and Robinson mapped out a plan for success that included housing, employment, education, budgeting skills, and much more.

Robinson seized the opportunity.

“He was motivated,” said Espe. “There were a few setbacks that could have been big, but he didn’t let them. He was driven.”

Big achievements 

After six months in Pathway of Hope, Robinson has reached almost all of his goals, including:

  • Full-time employment: He works at a fast-food restaurant and is gaining valuable work experience. He shows up on time and works hard. “I do a little bit of everything,” Robinson said. “Cleaning, cooking burgers, taking orders, and making sure the customers have a nice meal.”
  • Housing: Espe helped Robinson secure Section 8 housing. It’s the first time he has ever lived in his own home. “People can’t say to me, ‘I don’t want you here today,’ or, ‘You have to sleep on the couch,’” he said. “I twist the key, throw my hat on the hook, and jump onto my own couch.”
  • Education: Robinson is close to obtaining his GED. He has just three more tests to pass. “After that I want to take some business courses,” he said. “I have a vision and I want to get it off the ground.”

Cliff Robinson mug shotThrough it all, Robinson has grown to become a positive force in his daughter’s life.

“She had been getting some tardies and unexcused absences, but now she’s back on track,” he said.

Robinson is also the father of two other children who are living in Chicago, and he is doing his best to support them as well. With what little money he has leftover every month, he often uses it to buy them clothing and other essentials.

Espe is proud for how far Robinson has come.

“He amazes me,” said Espe, who is currently serving five other families through Pathway of Hope. “I love it when people like him make it. People who society says are ‘no good.’ Cliff has overcome hard obstacles and made big strides.”

Robinson is proud of the man and father he has become, and he is thankful for The Salvation Army’s help.

“Somebody finally believed in me,” he said. “Somebody finally cared.”

Please join The Salvation Army by volunteering or making a donation to support your local community.