During my years as a freelance writer, I’ve been blessed and honored to meet many interesting individuals and tell their stories. So many of the stories truly touched my heart and left me with a great deal of admiration for the individuals.
On Thursday, Jan. 23, I was going to have a different story to tell. For the first time since I’ve been writing, I was truly humbled by the story I would be telling.
The First Baptist Church in Waxahachie was the venue for the event, “Let’s Get Warm Giveaway.” The Local Homelessness Coalition in Ellis County put on the charitable event for the homeless citizens of our county. Betty Kirkpatrick and James Bell serve as co-chairs of the coalition.
From 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., food and snacks were provided, showers and haircuts were available and many organizations that assist those who need help were on hand. Clothing, goodie bags with personal grooming items and blankets were provided for all in attendance.
Many volunteers helped with the event and churches provided their buses to transport attendees to and from the event. The level of respect for one another was great and showing love for thy neighbor was obvious.
I must confess that in the past I have shamefully passed homeless people but never gave them a second thought. I think many people are like me and pay no attention to these invisible people. We can do better. These are humans like us who need help and we should not ignore them.
At this event, I was able to sit and visit with these individuals who have come upon very hard times. My first thought was that could be me because, like many Americans, I’m often a payday away from being on the streets.
Homelessness emerged as a national issue in the 1870s. Often, entire families, including children, are homeless. There were an estimated 37,878 homeless veterans estimated in the United States during January 2017, or 8.6 percent of our population. A total of 552,830 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night in 2018. This number represents 17 out of every 10,000 people in the United States. Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Point-in-Time Count, the only nationwide survey of homeless people provided this data.
HUD data from 2019 reported in a Texas Tribune report indicates about nine out of every 10,000 people in Texas are homeless as compared to 17 per 10,000 nationwide. One media outlet reported 51 homeless people identified during Ellis County’s 2019 point in time count as compared to 2018’s count of 14. Thursday’s count was to determine the 2020 number.
These are staggering statistics and, for a country as rich as America, it should not be. It is shameful.
Many claim people choose to be homeless. This may be true in some cases but the people I visited with Thursday are not living on the streets by choice.
What we are seeing in Waxahachie is rent prices that are through the roof. With the average rent exceeding $1,000 and the cheapest being between $800 and $900, many people cannot afford a home. People on the streets often work odd jobs and some do have full-time, low-paying jobs. Because they either ride a bike or walk everywhere, their lack of transportation often prevents them from working in higher paying jobs that would allow them to afford housing.
It is very heartbreaking to me that the high cost of rent and lack of transportation are the reasons many people go to sleep at night in parking garages, behind businesses or any place they can find. It is hard for me to imagine sleeping outdoors in the cold or heat and when it rains.
As I visited with the homeless individuals at this event, I was truly impressed by their attitudes. Each one I spoke with expressed their gratitude for the generosity of the people who help them. They are grateful for those who bring them food. The food pantries throughout our city have been their source of food on most days. I didn’t hear one of the individuals I spoke with have a “poor me” attitude. They all have hope and a strong belief in God Almighty.
I sat down and visited with Waxahachie resident James Leal. He has been on the streets since his father passed away in 2018 and due to overcrowding in that home when his brother moved in his girlfriend and her children.
James lacks transportation except for a bicycle. He does odd jobs out of town in construction and handyman jobs in addition to his full-time job at Cork and Keg.
“I don’t make enough to afford the high rent and, without a car, I cannot get to higher paying jobs that would help me afford a home,” he said.
James expressed his gratitude to the citizens who help him and to the Waxahachie Police Department. “The generous people of Waxahachie give me food. One kind man was late to work as he saw me and went to get me coffee and donuts for breakfast. I am amazed at the generosity of the people here,” he said. “The Waxahachie Police Department have been great. They help me and check on me and never give me any problems.”
Not one to stand on corners to solicit money, James believes that those who beg for money make it harder on the other homeless individuals.
James has a 4-year-old daughter and he tries to save up money to rent a hotel room for a couple of days so he can spend time with her.
“I wasn’t the best husband, but I am a good dad. I want to find a way to get off the streets and have a roof over my head so I can care for my daughter if anything happens to her mom,” he remarked.
Jesenia Garcia was in attendance with her 5-month-old son, Juan. While not homeless, Jesenia struggles to support her three children while her husband is incarcerated.
Jesenia immigrated here from Mexico. Her English is broken but we were able to communicate very well. She has no job and used to be without a car and has no family here. With tears in her eyes she explained that she is so grateful for the help she receives.
“The churches help me so much and they gave me a car. I thank God that my landlord is letting us stay in the house until my husband is released and can start working again,” she said. “I hope the Lord blesses the people who help me and pray for me.”
Two stylists volunteered their talents and time cutting hair for those who desired them. Devone Fautt Jackson from Vogue Salon and Spa at Legacy Ranch was there most of the day cutting hair leaving at 6:30 p.m. Stephanie Svehlak from The Wicked Salon spent the morning styling and cutting hair.
“It really felt good to help people today,” Devone said.
Devone was really enjoying the interaction she had while trimming the beard of Michael Ellis Parker.
Michael moved to Waxahachie from San Angelo in May.
“I live in a tent between two trees out in the country. I have no car and walk everywhere. My knees are getting bad. I have lost all my ID and, as soon as I can get the $50 to get a copy of my birth certificate, I will be able to get an ID card and a new social card. I have to have a birth certificate and two forms of ID to get a new social security card. I hope things will get better then. I’m very grateful for all the help I get from people here,” he said.
At a rare free moment, event organizer Betty Kirkpatrick sat down to discuss her pleasure with the turnout.
“It has been a good turnout. We are grateful for all the volunteers. We want everyone to remember the ‘Love in Action Giveaway’ Saturday (Jan. 25) at the Waxahachie Bible Church,” she said.
Betty agrees that the affordable housing and transportation issues must be addressed and noted a forum on the affordable housing issue was being held that evening.
“Daniel’s Den is trying to move to a new location. We don’t have any transitional housing for men. People need cars but that results in extra expenses for gas, car tags, taxes and insurance,” Betty said.
The tag line for The Local Homeless Coalition in Ellis County is: “Making Homelessness A Rarity And Affordable Housing A Reality.”
Not everyone is able to make financial donations to help but we can all show respect for and say prayers for the less fortunate. When you can, provide the homeless with a hot meal. There is one thing we all can do – give our time and offer to give the homeless a ride to the grocery store or where they need to go.
It was a very humbling day for me. I felt like when I got home that I needed to get on my knees and thank God for all I have and my many blessings and that I live in such a generous city.
Additional information about the Local Homeless Coalition in Ellis County can be had by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guila Jackson is a frequent contributor to the Waxahachie Sun.