Williamsburg's Homeless & Indigent

P.O. Box 366, Lightfoot, VA 23090
Office: 757-561-3255
"Assisting people in re-gaining hope and a better way of life."

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

I will update tomorrow night about our Christmas celebration and our move into a weekly motel. The first few nights have been a little hard but a great blessing!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

City Shuts Down Area Homeless Shelter
Ross Gilbert, DogStreetJournal Staff Reporter

A couple operating a homeless shelter out of their home in Lightfoot was shut down by York County's Code and Compliance Department on November 24th. The reasons, according to the York County inspectors, were that the facilities being used to house people were not fit for human habitation and did not meet the appropriate zoning requirements.

Patti McKenzie and her husband had been running what she calls an "underground safe haven" for homeless people in Williamsburg and throughout York County since Sept. of 2003 (This is a correction. Our ministry has been in effect since March 2002.) The homeless people she housed were referred to her by various agencies over the last year and a half, among which were the United Way, Salvation Army, Colonial Service Board, and various churches.

The McKenzies not only housed but also provided programs to help the people staying there get back on their feet.

"We try to operate as a family. We've found that what the homeless want most is to feel cared for, and to feel worthy. We ran classes for the people here called 'Stepping Stones' that we hoped would help people work through the issues they were dealing with. We also held weekly prayer meetings and Bible studies, and received a lot of assistance, financially and emotionally, from the Williamsburg Methodist Church community," Ms. McKenzie said.

At the time the shelter was shut down, about 15 people were staying on the McKenzies' property. Where they are now and where they can go is a serious problem for the entire York and James County areas, as there are no officially run or managed homeless shelters in the area. The McKenzies were the only people operating such a facility.

Mary Anne Harris of the York County Code and Compliance office stressed that while McKenzies' intentions were admirable, safety is a major issue when running such an organization.

"There is nothing wrong with what she is trying to do, but the fact is you need a safe environment. You can't have people living in storage facilities. If there had been a fire in there and a dozen people had died, this would all be a very different story," said Harris.

The issue of the homeless in Williamsburg is of major concern to many students at the College. Several students have volunteered their time at the shelter over the last year, notably junior Hadyn Rickett. Rickett was the campus liaison for the shelter until it was closed, and helped to raise awareness among students of the area's homeless problems. She also organzied activities and raised funds for the shelter through the Hunger Awareness Taskforce. She was not surprised to learn that the shelter had been shut down.

"Except for a few very caring individuals and organizations, Patti and her vision have met with resistance since she arrived here," said Rickett. "Based on my research it was obvious that Williamsburg had a problem with the ignored poor and homeless who were falling through the bureaucratic cracks. We've been working together for two years now and I've seen first hand the good that she is accomplishing for this community."

The McKenzies are currently continuing their efforts to create a shelter, but until the funds can be acquired to purchase appropriate zoning land and build, the homeless question in Williamsburg remains in limbo.
Help available for homeless
Published December 22, 2004

To those of you who bemoan the “tragedies imposed upon the McKenzies and the homeless,” listen to someone who is concerned.

They have been carrying out their ministry in direct violation of zoning regulations, in spite of county officials' repeated warning, and against lease agreements and the landlord's directives.

I am embarrassed by those who talk of a need for the homeless that has yet to be shown as a true need, and especially whether the McKenzie approach to the problem is the right thing to do. Officials have told us that adequate provisions exist in our area for the homeless if they care to use these facilities.

I work with the homeless and I care about their plight, and I do not trust some out-of-towners coming here and telling me how things should be done. Moreover, if you truly care about the homeless, then do something yourself.

For instance, bring them into your church family and have a church-sponsored program where you invite the homeless in manageable units into your own homes (after they and you are officially screened). If you get enough people involved in this, churches could come together and take care of the homeless problem.

Share your excess food with the homeless, and then walk the malls or the dog with them. They are very lonely and need some quality interaction in their lives.

Why don't the McKenzies volunteer with, support, and help expand the existing homeless programs, making a positive name for themselves, instead of getting kicked out of homes?

What do you know about the needs of the homeless, and why are you so quick to trust your money and our homeless citizens to some out-of-towners? Please think this through.

The McKenzies have given much time and money to the homeless. For what reason and at what cost? Is anyone else keeping up with how much money is coming in, how it is spent, and how the homeless are really being cared for? Do the McKenzies have any training or credentials or referrals from legitimate agencies?

You have no reason to rally behind them. Rather, if the need is real, then you have a far more personal obligation than to throw your potential blessing to strangers.

Michael Seltzer

James City

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

An Added Response To An Article In The Dog Street Journal

I am writing in response to Sean Conners "Can't Buy Me Love". Yes, throughout the years the holidays have become much more commercialized. At each beginning of a new generation, it becomes worse. When I was younger, we didn't ask for video games, computers, or any other of the latest techie items. That came many years later and I am only 37!

I personally have made 100 lbs of old fashioned hard candy as a Christmas gift for friends and neighbors since I was 13 years old. Two years ago, when I distributed it to my neighbores in Williamsburg, they thought I was crazy, although they loved the candy! At Thanksgiving, my husband and I made cinnamon knots and took out to our neighborhood friends and all plates came back empty. You probably don't remember this, but there was a time if a neighbor gave you something on a plate, the plate was to be returned with something in kind. Those days are gone with the advancing of technology. Even today we send e-mail Christmas cards instead of hand-made or even store bought ones.

Holidays have become like music. My Grandfather didn't like my father listening to Lawrence Welk (it was too upbeat.) My parents didn't like my siblings listening to The Beatles or Elvis (God forbid they had too much movement); nor did they like me bouncing off the walls to The Clash, Cure or The Smiths. Today, I can't stand the ultra funk rap or alternative music. Tomorrow, your children will be complaining about something to your grandchildren. It is the nature of the beast, or so they say the 'sins of our fathers'.

I can though name some who appreciate hand-made or even a small gift, no matter what the cost: orphans, abused children, terminally ill, and the homeless. Instead of making cookies with family, why not go to the terminally ill unit at a hospital or a nursing home with your family and sing Christmas carols (they don't care how you sing.) Or go read the story of the birth of Christ to a group of orphans, in many ways they can relate. Or volunteer at a soup kitchen and sit down with somebody who is homeless and show you really care about them, because they are human.

The people we consider our family are grateful for many things; mostly the little things such as they woke up for another day, they didn't freeze through the night, they had a warm meal before they went to sleep, they had a hug that day and they gained a little more hope than the day before. Even though we will be evicted shortly after Christmas for having 19+ homeless people living with us, my husband and I are grateful that we can afford a weekly motel to move into, once again we will be united with our 'family' and we have the strength to continue the effort to bring hope to those who are hopeless.

What so many of us forget is that Christmas is truly about hope. Hope that was brought to us that night when a baby was born with a great star above him to lead many others to his troft. A barn is where it began to give all of us grace as a eternal gift and mercy as our blankets. We all need to stope commercializing and start Christ-lizing the true meanings of the days marked as holidays.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Thank you to everyone who made Thanksgiving a special day for our friends who are homeless, especially Williamsburg United Methodist Church. To everyone who has been supportive during the past couple of years, we have greatly appreciated you. Bless you who have called, even if we didn't know you, during the hardship in the past week. But even still, I want the community to know our move, although it came as a shock, is just another opportunity for better things to come in Williamsburg. Those who kindly called to offer my husband and me a room in your home as long as it was needed, your kindness will not be forgotten. Fortunately, we have decided we must remain connected with our homeless 'family' members. So many of them have worked hard to get their life back on track and the events of the past week has become detrimental to a few. They can not afford a backslide when so many were ready for a place of their own. They want us with them and we feel we need to be available for them at this time. Sadly, a few 'bad apples' have stereotyped people who are deemed homeless; what many of the people in the community didn't get to experience as we did, is that even the 'bad apples' are worthy of compassion and love.

You may not understand our decision or agree with it. Maybe it seems odd that we would rather give up our home to live amongst the homeless, but to us it is a blessing. Too many of us take for granted the little joys in life because we have become too busy. This is our chance to see life through their eyes. This doesn't mean we are giving up. If anything, we plan to move forward faster and harder than we have in the past two years. I look forward to spending many years to come here in Williamsburg. So much awareness has taken place and many people throughout the community have now joined in to assist.

To those that we have had the pleasure in serving during our food ministry, thank you! The friends we have made have been a great joy. We will notify each of you when we are able to assist once again, even if we have to personally deliver to you.

To the detractors who are against our efforts (although you deny it is a ministry,) I keep you in my prayers and give thanks for your efforts. You have made the awareness stronger by your writings into the Last Word. Keep up the good work!

To the many agencies and churches who referred people to our home, please don't stop. We will continue in assisting as much as we are able. If in a time of need, we will always be available.

Paul, I will always be indebted to you for showing me the true definition of unconditional love. In writing the article "Homeless Defy Easy Solutions", you planted the seed that has brought hope to those who felt hopeless.

W&M students, especially Hadyn and John, yall are awesome!

Recently, a student at W&M stated in the Dog Street Journal
"Patti spends herself to the point of poverty..." and questioned "Why would any sane person spend themselves to the point of poverty to help bring hope to strangers?"
That is a legitimate question and my answer is this: it is my way to pay back for what my adopted father did for me and how can I appreciate his generosity, if I didn't use it to help others? But also, what better way to tithe to God than to help those in need, the people Jesus was sent to heal physically, emotionally and spiritually?

If you think it is unusual to see life this way, then ask Sister Bernice how she feels each night when she goes to sleep. And remember, there are no U-Hauls following the hearse.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Shelter:We have taken the word shelter and turned it into something to be looked down upon.
When emergencies occur, everyone runs to a shelter to weather out the storm. What is a shelter, really? A roof over your head. It could as easily be a tent, a lean-to, or a gymnasium as a house.

When "they" talk about cleaning up the community, "they" are talking about getting rid of people; not cleaning up trash or debris; but moving the homeless and hopeless away so that they are out of sight and out of mind.

Society has taken the human out of human-being. We all have been lost a time or two and needed help finding our way. Are you too good of a man that you can't get your hands dirty? Our founding fathers were homeless when they arrived here. They had to build their own homes from what was at hand. But where did they sleep until the houses were done? On the boat the came in. A make-shift shelter.

Have we come so far and advanced this much to be so ignorant? More of the youth in America fight for what is right in this country than anyone else. Do you think this problem will fix itself? Are you afraid to be the only one fighting for what is right? I know that it is scary to be the only one asking a question. But if you don't ask it, how will you know the answer? Stop playing it safe and trying to stay acceptable in the eyes of your communities. "What will the neighbors think?" Who cares?

If you would take a walk with Patti McKenzie, you could meet your "other neighbors." They live in their cars, behind grocery stores, under bridges. For the most part, they stay out of sight. But, at least in Williamsburg, their mostly right decent folk.

Brian Vincent
Last Word Entries

Thank God for the Freedom of Speech! It delights me when I see comments in the paper such as the one denegrating Patti McKenzie's efforts for her ignoring zoning regulations. First of all it reminds me of how uneducated people are concerning government: zoning regulations and restrictions are not laws. If they were, we would have to have referrenda or a senate to change them rather than poorly attended zoning hearings run by local yokels with private agendae.
Further, it points out how cold-hearted people would rather talk about rules than about the needs of our fellow human-beings. I, personally, have been a resident at Patti's house and have experienced the love and self-sacrifice that she offers. I have also seen how strict her rules were (no drugs, no alcohol, curfews, church attendance, etc.) and know that only people who really want to move on in life would stay there. It wasn't "The Ritz", but it sure as h**l beat living in the woods or in motels at $800/month. Besides nobody asked us what we thought.


It is sad when we as a community would rather point out the laws that were broken by Patti McKenzie than to see the good she did for us. Though we lived at her home, there were many people in the community that cared and supported her ministry by bringing clothes and food. When will the counties allow a shelter here. One that is truly needed. It is the counties that made her be underground, yet it was the same people who refered us to her.


If people would get to know the homeless that stayed with Patti and Geoff, they would see that we are just like them: a person who needs somebody to care about our well-being, a person who wants to be loved, a person who has feelings. We aren't scary and homelessness isn't contagious. The only difference is that we don't have a place to live.


I'm sorry for the McKenzies. Why are people so mean when those who are nice want to find a home for those in need? To the landlord who eveicted them, think of yourself on a street, in the rain, on a cold winter night. I know you wouldn't like it.


I read with interest how York is cracking down on crime of homelessness. Let's use the law to punish those who cannot afford the $3000,000 average cost for a home. They bring down home values and that just not right. If the county wants to rely on code to force these people out, it's attorneys need to do better than pointing to laws prohibiting 5 or more unrelated people from inhabiting one residence. Creationists believe we are all related, dating back to Adam and Eve. Science also points back to common ancestry. If we are all related then this law is moot.
Worse Than Homeless

So many of our friends when they come to our home seem as if their whole world has crashed down on them. With not much to say in the beginning, many just sit and stare at the TV or fight the tears inside them.

Whom am I referring to? The homeless. But what could be worse than being homeless? Being hopeless.

But, with a lot of work, trust, sharing and caring, one can see the sparkle slowly make its way into their eyes. Eyes that once seemed lost in gloom begin to shine, monotone voices begin to fill with laughter and frowns become turned upside down. Small problems that had been mountains in their lives soon become petty molehills as they regain hope.

When I told everyone that we have to shut down, tears built up in each person's eyes as they asked questions like, “They don't offer help to us, and we find somebody who cares and they take them away from us!” and the inevitable, “Where will we go?”

With all the attention from the media, there are a few things that have not been pointed out about our friends who live with us. Since March 2002, we have assisted 14 people into homes or apartments who had been living on the street or in their cars. In the past year, 14 people have come to know the Lord, three people rededicated their lives to God, five people have been baptized and five have joined our church, York River Baptist.

During United Way's “Day of Caring,” nine of the homeless dedicated their day to assist in projects for people in need throughout the community. On Thanksgiving Day, eight of them prepared and delivered more than 80 meals to people in the weekly motels. Each Thursday, several of our friends handed out food to low-income families who came during our food ministry. Throughout this time, we've all worked together to help one another with problems. It's like having a homeless support group.

Through the years, people have stereotyped those who are homeless. “The faces of homelessness are changing” has become my campaign slogan. The homeless aren't to be feared. If anything, they are more scared of you than you should be of them. Such as the 20-month-old and 4-year-old who stayed here with their parents. There was no drinking or drug problem in the family. Their father had become sick and couldn't work, yet hadn't been able to get disability. They had sought help from every avenue, but could not find a home.

There are a few among our community who have addictions, but does that mean they don't deserve to eat? United Way's slogan this year is “What Matters.” What matters shouldn't be us, but those who need to feel they matter.

I do not deny that I have broken rules. From the beginning I have tried to go about obtaining a shelter through the legal avenues, but was denied because the officials didn't want a shelter. But what is so wrong in helping people in need? Our intention was never to house people indefinitely, but to show them hope through God's grace and help assist them back into the community.
Patti McKenzie


Friday, December 03, 2004

We just really need help and support from our government! I did what the President asked in his Address to the Nation last year, "to take in those who would soon be homeless..." and we loose our home as well. If you can't do what the President asks of us and you can't do what God asks you to do, then how can this nation survive?
Woman Evicted From Her Homeless Shelter

Karen May

(Williamsburg, VA, December 3, 2004, 9:24 a.m.) The fight over a local homeless shelter comes to a head Thursday night.

A Williamsburg woman says she's just trying to help people who need a home. She has papers that take her own home away, and she doesn't have much time to find a new one.

Volunteers take requests for food, at the home of Patti McKenzie, a woman dedicated to helping the homeless, and others in need. “I started off by taking food down under the bypass bridge.” But now McKenzie and her husband are the ones who need help. The couple is being kicked out of their Williamsburg home, this holiday season. An eviction notice from their landlord says the McKenzie's have to move by the end of December. “I wasn't angry. When Satan find an opportunity to come in, he takes it,” she continued.

The eviction will shut down part of McKenzie's operation. Thursday was the last night people in need can com to McKenzie's home for bags of groceries.

A local mother doesn't want us to identify her, but says her six children will suffer. “I mean, we're paying house bills. We're paying, you know, electricity. That all adds up,” she commented.

This is the second blow for McKenzie this holiday season. She used to provide shelter to homeless men and families, in her own home, but York County officials shut down that operation, right before Thanksgiving. Stephen Kokser was one of many forced to move into motels. Now he's worried others may not get the help they need. “The holidays are coming. Kids may do without gifts, so they can eat, you know. It's disheartening.”

The management company that sent McKenzie the eviction notice has no comment. McKenzie says she has been offered four acres of land in Newport News, and will likely move there. She'd like to build a home, and a shelter.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

So many of our friends when they came to our home seemed as if their whole world had just crashed down on them or as if they had lost their best friend. With not much to say in the beginning, many would just sit and stare at the TV or fight the tears stuck deep inside them. Who am I referring to? The homeless. But what could be worse than being homeless? Being hopeless. But, with a lot of work, trust, sharing, caring and offering a shoulder to lean on, one could slowly see the sparkle make its way into their eyes. Eyes that once seemed lost in gloom began to shine, monotone voices began to fill with laughter and frowns were turned upside down. Their child-like need for a hug or to hear “I love and care about you” became a daily need like a dose of medicine. Small problems that had become mountains in their lives soon became petty molehills as they regained hope: that little bit of light in a dark tunnel.

When I told everyone the news that we had to shut down, tears built up in each person’s eyes with questions like “What can be so wrong with you helping us?” or “They don’t offer help to us and we find somebody who cares and they take them away from us!” and the inevitable question “Where are we going to go?” Sadly, I started to see the backsliding begin.

But, with all the press and attention from the media for the past year+, there are a few things that were not pointed out about our friends who lived with us. Since March 2002, we have assisted 14 people into homes or apartments whereas they had been living on the street or in their car for a year+. In the past year, 14 people have come to know the Lord through Salvation, 3 people rededicated there life to God, 5 people have been Baptized and 5 people have joined our church, York River Baptist. During UW's "Day of Caring", 9 of the homeless dedicated their day to assist in projects for people in need throughout the community. On Thanksgiving Day, 8 of them gathered to prepare meals and delivered over 80 meals to people in the weekly motels. Each Thursday, several of our friends would hand out food to low-income families that came during our food ministry. And, throughout this time, we all worked together to help one another with each one's problems. It was like having a homeless support group.

Through the years, people have stereotyped those who are titled 'homeless'. I have been stating the fact that the faces of homelessness are changing as my campaign slogan. The homeless aren't scary or to be feared. If anything, they are more scared of you than you should be of them. Such as the 20 month old and 4 year old who stayed with their parents here. They didn't have a drinking or drug problem, their Father became sick and can't work, yet hasn't been able to get disability. They have sought help from every avenue and still can not find a home. Yes, I admit there are a few amongst our community that do have addictions, but does that mean they don't deserve to eat? United Way's slogan this year is 'What Matters'. What matters shouldn't be us, but the focus on those who need to feel they matter.

I do not deny, as the person pointed out in the Last Word, that I have broken rules. That I do admit. From the beginning I have tried to go about obtaining a shelter through the legal avenues, but was denied because the officials didn't want a shelter. But, honestly, what is so wrong in helping people in need? Even in Matthew 25:35-36; 40 For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me. "And the King will answer them, 'I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.' So how was it, what I was doing wrong? Our intentions was never to house people indefinitely, but to show them hope through God's grace and help assist them back into the community.

I would also like to point out to the person in the Last Word who said "she claims to do this as a ministry" that anyone who reaches out to Christians in the Glory of God, it is a ministry. And a mission is when a Christian reaches out to people who are not yet Christians. But I will pray for you. And as for Linda Hoyle, I forgive you.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

To see a video from WAVY news about our eviction, click here