I used to see a homeless congregation around the downtown library when I went there to check out books or movies.
Just recently there were a couple of homeless people there. One of the librarians asked them to leave and hang out further down the sidewalk to be out of the way.
The only time I see them now is at the corners of the two Walmarts, begging for help in exchange for a job. It seems homelessness is Abilene’s dirty little secret that no one talks about.
What many people don’t understand is how much effort it takes to meet the basic needs of a homeless person.
I was homeless for a short time in downtown Fort Worth, east of Lancaster Street. It was known as âcrack alleyâ because there were more drug addicts on this stretch of road than anywhere else.
My mother kicked me out of the house when I came to live with them until I could get back on my feet. I was pushed without my glasses, my shoes, my car or anything other than the clothes on my back.
Fortunately, I had a friend who lived nearby and welcomed me. I was finally able to get my glasses, my car, my shoes and some personal items that could fit in the back of my car. I spent the night in a shelter and drove with the little money I had in search of another shelter to spend the next night.
I was terrified when I entered some shelters because the men slept outside the women’s washrooms.
I had a CPAP machine and found a small room on the floor to sleep on. When I woke up in the morning, I found that my food stamp card, money, and a few other valuables were missing.
I needed mental health services and went to John Peter Smith Community Hospital. I qualified for outpatient treatment. It was there that I discovered the Union Gospel Mission.
The minute I entered the mission, I noticed that it was unlike any of the other shelters I had been to. Everything was very clean and neat. The women were separated from the men. I had no problem going to church every day except Sunday. I was treated well there and eventually found other more permanent accommodation thanks to the local Mental Health and Mental Retardation Service (MHMR).
Fort Worth Housing had a program called Shelter Plus Care through the MHMR. I saw someone from housing and a case manager. I went to school and found a job. Little by little, I was able to take control of my life.
Even when I lived in Norman, Oklahoma, there was a homeless shelter created from an old dormitory at a public school. The local churches each took a room and furnished it and provided its occupant with personal care items.
My question to the AbilÃ©niens: why can’t we do something more to house and take care of the homeless? Some people refuse to go to the town’s two shelters due to poor living conditions – either harassed by staff or other residents. Rather than ignore these complaints, why not respond to them? With all the empty buildings in the city, why not take advantage of it?
When I got here I noticed that there was a church on almost every street corner. Homelessness is not going to go away any time soon. Why not embrace them and help them? After all, no one knows for sure if we will be in his place. It happened to me. It could happen to you.
Ann Danehower lives in Abilene.