It’s been 24 years since Charlotte North met Kevin Campbell at a tiny pub in England, and then came home gushing about her new crush. Since then, the couple’s love has been tested by things most people can’t even imagine — from homelessness to violence to serious illness.
On Wednesday, the couple celebrated both their relationship and their journey from the streets to stable housing. Surrounded by friends, family, outreach workers and even an elected official, the two exchanged vows, rings and kisses, and then sealed the deal with cake. For everyone there, including Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, the commitment ceremony was a reminder that even in the face of a deadly pandemic and a devastating homelessness crisis, love endures and people get second chances.
“It was totally perfect,” said North, who had to wipe away tears during the ceremony. “I couldn’t have asked for more.”
North, 62, and Campbell, 54, have been homeless since 2014. They had been taking care of North’s brother, but when he died and the house was sold, they had nowhere to go.
They slept outside a church in Campbell, even during the winter months. The cold, lack of proper nutrition and unsafe conditions took a toll on their health. Campbell developed arthritis in his knees. Nerve damage in his feet landed him in the hospital for a month. Some of it was permanent, and Campbell still needs help walking.
One day, while North was away from their campsite, a strange man walked up and started beating Campbell with a tennis racket for no reason, Campbell said. North returned to find her partner covered in blood.
He’d fractured his skull and his knee, and had to spend 15 days in the hospital — including several in intensive care.
“But we had each other,” Campbell said. That’s what made life bearable.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, everything changed. The crisis prompted officials to unlock unprecedented state and federal funding for homeless housing in California, and thousands of Bay Area people like Campbell and North were given a chance to sleep indoors. Motels throughout the region were opened to shelter homeless people who were elderly, sick or otherwise at heightened risk if they contracted the virus. Campbell and North got a room at a motel in Milpitas.
From there, North and Campbell were placed in short-term housing in San Jose — making them among the first people to move into the experimental, modular community city leaders launched on Rue Ferrari early this year as part of a new strategy to house homeless residents waiting for long-term housing. About 100 people live on the site, each in their own, private unit with a small kitchen and bathroom, and receive help with mental health, addiction, job placements, searching for permanent housing, and more.
Now, North and Campbell are on a waiting list for a subsidized, permanent home, and hope to move as soon as a unit opens up. About 19 residents have found permanent housing since the Rue Ferrari site opened in January.
The couple’s love story started years ago in England. North was visiting her sister, Michelle, in the tiny village of Feltwell when she got bored and wandered into a little pub. There, she met Campbell.
“She came home, woke me up and started gushing,” Michelle North said. “And it’s been kind of like that ever since.”
Campbell moved to the U.S. to be with North in 1998, and they dated off and on. In 2005, they got back together and have been committed ever since.
“I don’t want to have anyone else in my life,” North said. “Plus, he looks good. He’s arm candy.”
After they came in off the streets and their life took on a newfound stability, they decided to make their relationship official. North has a terminal illness that she doesn’t like to talk about, so they felt time was of the essence.
North got down on one knee and proposed to Campbell — he can’t kneel anymore because of the damage in his legs. Once the HomeFirst staff at the Rue Ferrari housing site learned they were engaged, they decided to throw the couple a wedding.
Vardy’s Jewelers in Cupertino donated two gold rings. Holi Cannoli! in San Jose donated a lunch spread for the guests, plus cannolis and a wedding cake. Brenda Wielen, who befriended North and Campbell when they were sleeping outside her church in 2019, made North a bouquet of white and purple flowers for the big day.
On Wednesday, North left her room wearing a purple dress and a white sweater, and approached a podium set up in the common area of her temporary housing community. Campbell was beside her in a button-down shirt, leaning on the back of a wheelchair for support.
“With this ring, I thee wed,” North said, slipping a ring on Campbell’s finger. Campbell wiped away tears
Supervisor Chavez, who conducted the state’s first Zoom wedding during the pandemic, officiated. North and Campbell had a commitment ceremony instead of a wedding because getting legally married would reduce the Social Security and disability benefits they rely on as their only source of income.
For North’s sister, who has watched North struggle with homelessness for years, the ceremony was a chance to let out a huge sigh of relief.
“This is just sort of a culmination of all the feelings we’ve had since she moved in here,” Michelle North said. “This is perfect.”