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."

Sunday, February 25, 2007

(from "Compassion Corner" in the Toano-Norge Times Feb. 07)

“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to improve myself in order to move off the streets and better my life.” Shocking for some to read, coming from a homeless man, but is it enough to make you want to read more about Russell’s life, on and off the streets?

I heard about Russell Dec. 23rd, the night of our Christmas party, when Nikki from WaWa called on his behalf to see if we could do anything to assist him. I sent a volunteer over to pick him up so he could at least have a good meal and friendship, but also in anticipation to see what God would do for him. When Russell approached me to introduce himself, I thought he was another volunteer at the party offering us help. But before I could say, “Hi, I’m Patti McKenzie, what station would you like to work at?”, Russell thanked me for sending a car and inviting him to the celebration. I was floored! This middle-aged, well groomed and dressed man, whose manners made me feel like I should be on a “Geico caveman commercial”, was homeless. Now I don’t mean the latter statement to sound stereo-typing and technically, homelessness doesn’t have a poster-child representing their situation, but I would have to paint a picture of Russell for you.

With no time to change or get ready for the party, Russell arrived just as he was when Nikki called me. Being 5’7” and seeming very relaxed in his nice shirt under a woven sweater and pressed khaki’s, he was ‘sporting’ his ski jacket, neatly folded across one arm. This 51 year old man looked more like a business man in his weekend attire ready to assist a struggling ministry with their 230 guests. A few minutes later, Jill, a guest who had adopted several people for Christmas, took me aside and told me she knew Russell and she wanted to help him. It had been awhile since she had seen him and had always wondered what happened to him. She put Russell up in a motel for a week. But her eagerness to help him intrigued me so that I wanted to get to know him better to see if we could get him permanently off the streets. His case just seemed to be so different from other homeless men I have assisted.

Russell was born in Newport News in 1956. In 1960, his family moved to New Jersey. Both of his parents were severely uneducated, but were proud for Russell to see his education through to graduation and onto business school studying Business/Accounting. Unfortunately, Russell could not finish his education due to financial circumstances. Eventually, he started working for WaWa in New Jersey. After a major health situation arose, he could not continue to cover his living expenses and was threatened with eviction. Hearing that WaWa was opening up stores in Virginia, he left his home (on amicable terms) in Jersey and relocated here to Williamsburg and started working at the local (downtown) WaWa. Although Williamsburg’s cost of living is less than Jersey’s, Russell was struggling to find a place to rent within his means. He checked into the Captain John Smith Inn, until it changed owners. He moved over to the Tioga until it shut down when Mrs. Lee sold it. With very few places left to go, he heard about rooms at the Williamsburg Historic Inn where he was also hired to maintain the grounds. During this transitional period, Russell lost his job at WaWa. On Dec. 15th, Williamsburg Historic Inn closed its doors permanently.

Unemployed with no place to live, Russell sleeps at night anywhere that will welcome him out of the cold and bitter winds. With no family to turn to for help or support, his only option for shelter is one of the 24-hour restaurants where he can buy a cup of coffee and stay in the warmth for a few hours. “I walk about 6-10 miles a day (and night). I don’t want to go to Newport News and risk my life. It is hard to believe that as badly as I want a job, I have a hard time getting one. I have no social life, no family. I don’t drink or use drugs. I just want to find a way to better myself, but at times it seems hopeless.”

For this month’s article, I had planned to write about a family, yet some of their information hadn’t come back yet. Over the weekend, I had mentioned to Rosemary (Van Houten) that I wanted to do an article on Russell because everyone I have spoken with only has nice words about him, yet he still remains on the street. Little did I know God had a plan for Russell to call me today, the day before deadline, to talk. He really wasn’t calling about help. He just called to tell me that many people urged him to call about a small situation he was in. Why? He didn’t know. He has a chance at a job with Busch Gardens, but no address. They told him even a P.O. Box was ok. I told him I didn’t want to talk about the job but rather the article I wanted to do, and he sounded happy to participate.
“The biggest question I have is, why do you think you have been on and off the streets so much?” I asked.
“I have wondered that myself,” he responded. “I don’t have any evictions, but I do have bad credit. Some of the rent prices are higher than I can afford on my own, but not as much as living in a motel. Other than having my moments with depression about my situation and thinking ‘this must be as good as my life will get’, I have no psychiatric concerns. So it must be that I don’t have a job. And I don’t have a job because I don’t have an address.”
Russell is no different than anyone else who sets goals and has dreams. His are to be able to get into the business/accounting field as he first set out to do many years ago. I suggested going to HR Block and inquiring about their tax school. “But that would have to be after I get a small job so I can get on my feet and a place to live. I just need something positive to happen and I thought the job at Busch Gardens would be a start, but with no address…” he slowly stated. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to improve myself in order to move off the streets and better my life


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