Church offers hope to homeless: Stories behind the faces

Betty BeanUncategorized

Brady and his uncle Russell (last names withheld) rolled into Knoxville on a Greyhound bus shortly after 3 a.m. last September looking for a better life. They collected their bags and Russell’s wheelchair and proceeded a couple of blocks west to the mission, but found that it wasn’t yet open, so their plan was to settle down to wait under the interstate bridge next door.

Five years ago, a catastrophic stroke left Russell unable to speak or walk, and Brady has been taking care of him ever since. They’d been living in Indiana but decided to make a fresh start somewhere else, and Brady had good memories of Knoxville from living here 18 years ago. They figured that between Russell’s disability check and what Brady could pick up as a day laborer, they could make it here. The prospect of a milder winter was a bonus.

But things went bad under the bridge.

“We were jinxed from the start, soon as we got off the bus,” Brady said.

“Some lady asked me to borrow 50 cents, and when I gave it to her, she saw a little bit of green. Next thing I knew, somebody came up behind me, kicked me in the ribs and took everything I had. Russell was trying to protect me and they dumped him out of the wheelchair and took our bags and everything. He had a $5,000 type box called a Dynavox that would spell out words for him. They took that, too. He went a good month without his seizure medicine.”

The men have slowly gotten their lives back together in the four months since then. They’re sleeping at Knox Area Rescue Ministry, have a case manager and are hoping they can find housing soon. They’re taking classes at the Volunteer Ministry Center so that those in charge of such decisions will see that they are trying to better themselves. Meanwhile, they stay as far away from under the bridge as they can.

“I don’t even like to walk by it,” Brady said.

Last week, Brady and Russell discovered the warming center that Eternal Life Harvest Center operates in the church gym – the church has made a commitment to open it on any night that the temperature falls below freezing, and they decided to give it a try. They’re very glad that they did.

“It’s so peaceful and they are very kind and courteous here,” Brady said. “I’m just thankful to be out of KARM for awhile. The good food and the coffee’s just an extra bonus. I might not be able to sleep because there’s no noise.”

Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables and cobbler were on the menu that night, and Kevin (last name withheld) was seated just down the table from Russell and Brady. He’s 18 and aged out of foster care last year. He grew up in Oak Ridge and recently returned from Asheville, where he went looking for work. Things didn’t turn out well for him there and he landed in the hospital.

When asked what was wrong, he smiled, and said starvation. He said somebody at the hospital gave him a bus ticket to come back to Knoxville, and he’s trying to get his paperwork done to apply for employment and housing, a process that is complicated by his birth certificate situation – he was a Russian adoptee brought to America at the age of 18 months. He’s not even sure what his birth name is.

“I think the first name has 16 letters,” he said. “I had the names of my birth parents.”

The adoption didn’t work out, he said, “for psychological reasons” and he went into the foster care system. He bears no grudge against his adoptive family.

He loves the Eternal Life Harvest Center warming center, and is glad he discovered it.

“Life on the street is hard. I lost 20 pounds in a week.”

Ralph, another guest at the warming center, is a traveling man. He left Oklahoma last week with everything he owns in a backpack after he stepped out onto the highway and asked God to show him the way.

“It’s against the law to hitchhike, but what you do is you ask God for a ride – you say, ‘Lord, do something with me.’ A truck driver bound for New Jersey picked me right up.”

Ralph went as far as Ft. Knox, Kentucky, with the truck driver, and then the road led him south to Knoxville. He’s excited about the hospitality and love he’s found at Eternal Life Harvest Center.

“I was at KARM talking to Steve when these guys came by, and when they sent the little bus over, I hopped right in,” he said. He was hoping somebody had a guitar he could play that night.

It was Steve’s third or fourth night in the warming center, and he said it’s far more pleasant than staying at KARM or in the woods, which were his other options. He stays away from under the bridge, which he said is too dangerous and drug-ridden to frequent. He sympathizes with those who have lost their possessions when city crews sweep through.

“They take coats, shoes, bags – everything gets taken. But if they didn’t come through and clean things up, the place would be a wreck. I won’t go near that place.”

He loves the warming center, and said he’s telling his friends about it.

“This place is great. I love it. It gets my stress level right down. Long as they keep doing it, I’m here. I’m so thankful.”

Just then one of the church members comes by to check on him:

“Mr. Steve, you OK, sweetie?’

Steve said he was just fine.

Andy is a Knoxvillian who said he was evicted from his apartment last August because his sister came over drunk and behaved badly. He was beaten up and robbed the second day he was homeless and he recently broke his wrist when he fell in the shower. He’s struggling with depression.

“It just seems like an endless road, although the staff (at KARM) is extremely friendly. I have a check coming in the first of the month and I could rent a place, but I have no way to get out and look for anything.”

He said he’s going to try to get in on a placement program at VMC, but meanwhile, he loves the warming center, which he learned about in chapel at KARM. He finished his supper and headed over the prayer circle that was being led by Brother Davis.

“I love this program. It’s the first time I’ve been, and I’m very grateful.”

Come back Friday morning when Betty Bean profiles the new pastors of Eternal Life Harvest Center.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.