Homeless, hopeless, suicidal

Contributed by George Gorman, Pastor of Palmyra and Haden Chapel, United Methodist Churches

It’s 7 p.m. on a Sunday evening and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. So I decided to head on home but I paused and told myself, “Better check to see if there are any messages on the landline.” I only remember to check it now and then, as I depend on my cell phone. Sure enough, there were several messages and I began scrolling through. I pulled out a piece of paper and a pen as this very soft voice came across the line and kindly asked for a place to stay for herself and her two little dogs, for just one night. She left a number. After a big sigh, I called her.

I drove the almost 10 miles to Zion Crossroads and parked my car at Sheetz. It looked like her car as described, so I approached and saw the two little dogs. There in the driver’s seat was this little old lady, who was probably in her eighth decade of living. And I thought to myself, how could an 80-year-old lady be homeless? That’s immoral!

She told me her name was Doris and her Boston terrier was Archie and the other, what I call a three-pound “bad hair day dog” was Peanut. I secured a room at the pet-friendly Best Western and asked Doris if she needed any food. She said no, just a room where she could bath her “babies” and herself and “all three of us” can rest in the bed. I didn’t believe her, so I got some food from IHOP and she readily accepted it.

Subsequent conversation revealed that Doris had been badly physically and emotionally abused, and therefore scarred, by a husband. She was left alone with little money and paid the rent by taking care of her elderly landlady’s pet dog. But when Elaine, the landlady, died, Doris had no way to pay for the rent and was evicted. So she had lived on the road homeless with Archie and Peanut for six months, sleeping and eating what she could in her car, and sometimes in a campground. Her primary concern was her two babies, and Archie and Peanut loved her dearly. Little three-pound Peanut bravely protected his “mama.”

I guess I should have just given her a little money and left, because this same story is relived over and over again. But something or someone, maybe God, told me I couldn’t do that. So I breathed in another sigh, and I went into Walmart and bought a tent and some camping supplies and put the three of them up in a paid campground. Mind you, we were now in the heat and humidity of summer.

This wonderful lady in one of my churches stepped up to the plate to help me, sort of as Doris’ advocate. So two campgrounds later, as Doris was found on her knees by her advocate, coughing and struggling to breathe with lung impairment, I took another sigh and moved Doris and her two babies into the basement of the parsonage, where there is a bedroom and a bathroom. We bought her a little refrigerator and microwave. I thought to myself, “Just what have I got myself into, but I just can’t let her go back homeless on the road. I can’t.” By the way, before I forget, if you want to know what physical and mental stress does to you, know that Doris was not 80 but 59. I cringe at the stories she told me about her abuse. I thought to myself, “There is a special corner in hell for men like that.”

So we desperately needed something bigger than a bedroom. Fortunately, a church member approached me and for a small rent offered the lower space of a house temporarily, with a bedroom, living room, bathroom, but no kitchen. It was not ideal but was better than a car.

Now it is some two years later and Doris is still in the same place and we are looking for something else with a small kitchen. Meanwhile she now looks her 61 years and once again hope has started to creep in and the “Thelma and Louise suicide pact” has gone to a back burner. I have to tell you, this is the most difficult and heart-wrenching thing that I have had to deal with in my 18 years of pastoral ministry and I need help. Doris needs help. Archie and Peanut need help!

So readers, please finish this article and listen to my plea, my crazy idea. You be the judge. I thought maybe someone in Fluvanna, Albemarle County or neighboring counties, might have a broken but fixable unused 400- or maybe 500-square foot building or a trailer on their country property with electricity and a bathroom. We know that Doris can’t really afford any of this and will not under any circumstances give up her babies to go into an apartment. In fact, if she were told she could no longer stay where she is (which is not ideal) and she had to let Archie and Peanut go, I am certain she would go back homeless on the road and if necessary resurrect the Thelma and Louise pact as an alternative.

I ask you to please help me by thinking outside of your box and “imagine if…” (that beautiful song is most apropos). Call me any time of day or night, and I mean it, at 434-222-7293 and tell me you know of a 500-square foot building that maybe could be a little cottage with some sweat equity and several thousand dollars (that my church folks have generously donated to my discretionary fund). And on top of that, that you would be willing to let Doris and her babies stay there free or maybe for a donation of $100 a month or so, for as long as she wanted. And then when she leaves, you would have a little cottage you could rent for considerably more. Tell me I am crazy. Well, God made me that way then.

Peace, and call me!

P.S. Doris, who absolutely loves all animals, domestic and wild, also has a 26-year-old cockatiel named Jamie.

P.P.S. A huge thank you to the Fluvanna Review for publishing this article.

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