Thomas Yon considers homelessness a blessing. After nearly a lifetime addiction to drugs and failed attempts to maintain a clean life, he had to learn how to be homeless, and it probably saved his life.
With the help of the Urban Ministry Center, Yon found Soccer 945, a soccer team comprised of homeless players. It began a transformation that helped him get clean. Beyond Charlotte, there’s an global entire network of homeless teams.
In 2015, Yon won a bid to represent the US team (he’s a terrific goalie) for the Homeless World Cup in Amsterdam. Prior to that he competed in the US tournament in San Francisco and won the Heart Award for the entire tourney. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Yon, with rugged good looks and piercing green eyes, walks into the Project 658 community center wearing a tracksuit.
He reveals his story without excuses, but also with the grace of a man who has forgiven himself.
He grew up in an upper middle class home in Dilworth. At age 8, after discovering he was adopted, he started smoking weed. He was sexually molested by his dealer.
By 16, he had begun using cocaine. At 24, he was a father to two children and entered his first drug rehabilitation program. After rehab, he earned a spot on a semi-professional soccer league. However, an ACL tear led to an injury recovery that fed an addiction to painkillers.
By his early 30s, Yon was a functional alcoholic and drug user. He married three times. He went to three more rehabilitation centers. Inheriting millions after the death of his father, Yon thought money might just save him, but he blew through his inheritance buying toys to feed his addiction to adrenaline. Four-wheelers, boats, motor cross, and even slope skiing by jumping from a helicopter failed to quench his thirst.
By 2014, after the eventual demise of his 20-year marriage, Yon found himself hotel room and couch surfing. The pivotal moment came after spending Thanksgiving with his daughter at her request. In a drunken moment, he came to blows with his son-in-law. The Sunday after, on the way to church, he was dropped off on the street with his things.
A few months after that horrible Thanksgiving, his drug dealer’s mom dropped him off in Uptown and pointed to the location of a men’s shelter and The Urban Ministry Center. Scared to death, and for the first time ever really in survival mode, embarrassed and alone, Yon started praying. He says his entire life leading up to that point had been, in part at least, “me still trying to find Jesus.”
Standing in line for food at the Urban Ministry Center, Yon watched a kid juggling a soccer ball. He asked if he could give it a try, and found that playing soccer came back to him just like riding a bike. In February 2015, he started playing with the Soccer 945 program. “I started caring again,” he says. “Memories came back.”
He found steady work and moved into a men’s shelter. He resides now in a boarding home for people recovering from addiction and homelessness. He completed a 12-week culinary program through Project 658. He’s clean and sober. He’s even reconnected with his children.
Through the unlikely auspice of homelessness, Yon found his life again. “I need God. He’s blessed me. He’s kept me safe,” he says of his stumbling onto the Soccer 945 program. “God used soccer to save my life.”