Hope for the homeless
by Jennifer Cohron
Jan 30, 2011 | 2218 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Larry, a 51-year-old Jasper native, hopes to become a cook and turn his life around for the better. - Photo Special to the Eagle
Larry, a 51-year-old Jasper native, hopes to become a cook and turn his life around for the better. - Photo Special to the Eagle
Ted Williams, a homeless former radio announcer from Ohio, became nationally known this month because of his "golden" voice.

He was soon juggling multiple job offers and appearances on shows such as "Today" and "Dr. Phil."

However, Williams' roller coaster ride to recovery seemed to hit a bump when he left rehab recently against the advice of his doctors after less than two weeks of treatment.

Two residents of The Jimmie Hale Mission in Birmingham have taken more permanent steps toward turning their lives around.

Larry, a 51-year-old Jasper native, and Matthew, a 24-year-old veteran, both have hope for the future.

Still, neither ever imagined they would become one of the 5,000 to 8,000 Alabamians who are homeless on any given night.

Larry came from a fairly affluent local family.

He was an industrial developer for the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) for 10 years and also worked with Jim Folsom Jr. in the Alabama Legislature for several years.

He had various sales jobs after that. Then, three years ago, he became homeless because of what he calls "a series of bad choices and circumstances."

Larry lived on the street for three weeks before he found shelter at The Salvation Army. He was dealing with feelings of shame and guilt as well as thoughts of suicide.

The future, from his perspective, seemed bleak.

"It's hard enough when you're not on the street to get a job, much less when you're worried about where your next meal is going to be or you have to sleep with a knife in your hand because you don't know who might come upon you while you're asleep," he said.

Larry remembers stealing a Snickers bar and a block of cheese from a grocery store after he had not eaten for four or five days.

At The Salvation Army, he went through a six-month rehabilitation program and worked as an assistant resident manager in the alcohol and drug facility for about a year.

Then one day, a man under his supervision called him from a bar and asked to be picked up. Larry made a fateful decision to have a few drinks with him.

He never returned to The Salvation Army.

He spent a week on the streets again before making his way to The Jimmie Hale Mission. It was a humbling experience for him.

"In my position at The Salvation Army, I had to dismiss people for violations. There were seven people at Jimmie Hale when I got there that I had dismissed," Larry said.

He said a popular misconception about homeless people is that they don't want to better themselves.

At Jimmie Hale, he has known former lawyers, doctors, businessmen and skilled workers.

Some are there because of addictions. Others simply missed a few paychecks and had nowhere else to go.

Larry has been at the Mission since May 2010. He has graduated from its Stewart Learning Center and has also successfully completed its recovery program.

He is currently enrolled at Jefferson State Community College in the culinary arts program. He is working toward an associate's degree in hospitality management.

He hopes to earn an apprenticeship this summer at the Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort, where he would spend two years training under an executive chef.

He also has plans to purchase a vehicle soon and get his own apartment by June.

Larry said his experiences have taught him that even small choices have consequences and a support system like the one he has at Jimmie Hale is an important part of getting back to a better life.

"I used to look down on the kind of folks that I am now. I had no idea that I would be here or that most of these guys are really good people in bad situations," he said.

Matthew is also one of the four students from The Jimmie Hale Mission attending JSCC.

A few years ago, Matthew had a series of dead-end jobs after getting medically discharged from the military.

With no direction, it wasn't long before he became depressed and developed a drinking problem.

"I know it sounds cliche;, but it was a slippery slope. I drank more and more, and it got to the point where nobody wanted me around," Matthew said.

Matthew's family urged him to seek help, and he did at The Jimmie Hale Mission.

He has successfully moved through the steps of the Mission's residency program and graduated with his G.E.D.

He is in his second semester of college and working hard to get a spot in the nursing program.

Matthew said the Jimmie Hale program has strengthened his faith in God and taught him about the importance of character.

He is rebuilding his relationships with family members and celebrating each day of sobriety.

"It doesn't matter how low you get, there's always room to go up," Matthew said.