Stitching a Life Back Together: A Library, a Quilt, and a Formerly Homeless Life in Repair

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The downtown Dallas Public Library is often a refuge for the homeless, a place to spend their day. And, it's often a refuge that comes with its share of homeless-related problems. But for at least one man it's a roof over his head that he says has very much helped save his life.

On any given day, on the library's fourth floor, you can find Charles Piano seated at a table alone.

He's easy to notice. He's the guy sewing, with his own-handmade quilts spread out on the table in front of him.

"This repetitive motion is actually very calming," he said. "I'm gonna sew myself out of this ditch I'm in," he told a library visitor who asked what he was doing.

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"The "ditch" he was in was homelessness. He was among the hundreds living at various encampments underneath I-30.  It's where he ended up after his wife died.

"When she passed, I had a hard time of it. Probably a little depression set in."

The library gave him a daytime roof over his head and a place to sew some of that depression away.

"Suicide, that wasn't an option for me," the former warehouse forklift operator said. "I was gonna make it, make do. So that's what I did."

"I saw him in the library and saw him working," said library director Mary Jo Giudice. "He's really a spark in the library. And then I had the idea I wanted him to make a quilt for me."

With that quilt and more, Charles is trying to support himself full-time with the textile arts hobby he and his wife shared.  His work has won a blue ribbon at the State Fair of Texas. He sells his work as fast as he can sew.

With the help of City Square, the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance and other agencies, he now has his own two bedroom apartment in Mesquite where a donated sewing machine is helping him keep up with requests when they come in.

"Now I've got a bedroom and a sewing room," he said. "I can make anything now.

But each week he still returns to his table at the library knowing that he's always just a stitch or two away from being homeless again.

"I still worry about it. I'm at risk. I'm in the at risk category. But I see a way out of it."

A way out, with a needle and thread, hoping his business will get big enough so he can hire and help some of his homeless friends. And, maybe help repair the image of the homeless along the way.

"I'm trying to show that we can do something else besides panhandle," he said. "Besides just stand there with our hands out. But I want to be a maker not a taker."

"It makes me feel so great that he's in a home now and he's starting a business and he's being successful, and you can't ask for anything better than that," said Giudice.

"I'm Italian and we don't give up," said Piano. "We haven't won a war in 200 years but we don't give up."

So if you see someone in the library whom you might mistake as homeless with his quilts spread out over a fourth floor table, stop and check out the work of a stubborn Italian named Charles Piano. He's not homeless. He's just a guy stitching a life back together...one quilt at a time.

"Life's up and down right? It's bounce or break. I'm not gonna break. I'm gonna bounce."