The reality of my night meeting with the homeless in Rutherford County

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Photo by Scott Walker (See more at SmallTownBigWorld.com)

You don't have to venture far from your home to see the needs of the community. Last night I had the opportunity to help in the homeless count throughout Rutherford County. The response we got from numerous persons, both male and female, was overwhelmingly sad...

I spoke to one woman who was in her early fifties and she told me that she was raped as a child by numerous persons that included two of her father's friends. Another woman worked in the porn industry and was later addicted to heroin and then crack cocaine to cover the scars. We then met with a man who lives in a small gathering of trees who told us he was locked in a closet for bad grades for an entire year as a child. Another man in his late 40's who lives under a bridge near railroad tracks, told us that his step father hit him so hard as a child that it broke his jaw.

Some of the campsites we visited were clean while others were littered in beer bottles and discarded fast food trash. One of the camps I walked into had a small makeshift dining room table with three outdoor chairs gathered around the table. The man invited us into his oversized tent that was donated by local resident Rusty Bonds. Inside the spotless tent was a cot, a dresser, a living room chair that looked as if it belonged in my home and a small table. He told me that a local hotel gave him the chair. He said the same hotel allows him to visit their lobby for free coffee. He smiled as he was complimented on the cleanliness of his site. He then told us how he kicked other campers out of his area for being disrespectful of his home. He said that if someone threw a cigarette butt on the ground in his camping area, he would ask them to pick it up stating, "You wouldn't throw a cigarette on the ground in your home!"

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Throughout the night stories of drug abuse were fewer than I imagined while stories of alcohol abuse were high. The majority of those who spoke to us did say they suffer from some type of mental illness with bi-polar disorder standing out as the number two issue following closely behind depression, which was number one. Number three on the list seemed to be schizophrenia. I asked many men and women if they were on medications for their mental related problems. Some told me no while others said, "I did not have any money to fill my prescription." I simply told them, "You can't stop taking those meds, they have to be a priority... some of them take about four weeks to start working again." Of course I knew the number one priority was finding a place to lay their head at night followed by food in a close second.

During the evening we transported multiple homeless persons to different locations in Murfreesboro that were serving dinner. Places like Last Call 4 Grace, The Journey Home and the Coldest Nights Shelter at First Baptist Church were all open for evening meals on Monday night. During those rides I got to know some of our homeless population even better which revealed to me the depth of the sadness that goes with mental illness - a sadness that can only be understood when time is spent alone with someone on the bottom of the social ladder.

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During one ride I was told by a homeless woman... "Never trust a homeless person who has only one thing to lose - their tent." While the overwhelming majority of folks I talked to were shy, calm, reserved and grateful for help, some have mental illnesses that shine when having a one on one conversation. A man we drove to McDonalds spent $50 he recently made on gift cards to FaceBook to play games. He said he didn't drink or do drugs, but enjoyed the free wi-fi at the fast food eatery. Another woman continued to yell at her small dog named Memphis while a man suggested I would steal his soul if I took a photo of him.

We picked up one man who just spent the past three months in the Rutherford County Workhouse. He said he now has no apartment to go home to in Manchester after getting arrested in Murfreesboro on marijuana related charges. His rent at his apartment went unpaid for three months and his belongings are now gone, or so he thinks as he has no many to pay for a taxi to transport him back to Coffee County. He will now be living in our area as he has to meet with a $148 per week probation officer in Murfreesboro that will also cost him an additional $166.66 per month to cover the cost of a $2,000 fine / court expenses.

I met another individual who was in the solitude of a tent buried in dirty clothing, soiled blankets and urine soaked sheets. To get to his makeshift tent we hiked past a cell phone tower and made our way down a muddy trail past a discarded mattress. While his jeans were urine free on the day of my visit, I was assured that in past visits - he was so wasted trying to forget about his current life that he could not stand. His past issue to overcome - he is a sex offender who drinks his days and nights away.

Several miles away a man staggered towards me outside of a grocery store and showed me staples in his head. Evidently, he was hit over the head while staying the night in a not so friendly campground where he was robbed of $3. I later ran into the same man at a shelter and he was eager to eat. However, he was told that if he wanted to be the first in the chow line he needed to lead the prayer. As he concentrated on standing still in an upright manner, he removed his hat and announced, "Everybody, please remove your hats." It was both sad and reassuring to watch this man who had nothing, lead others in prayer. He stated with a slur... "I am not good at this, but I will try," a volunteer said, "Don't worry, your prayer will be great - God will hear you." The prayer then began as he asked God to bless those in the shelter and to watch over the volunteers. I thought he was going to shed a tear as he continued to ask for Gods goodness to shine down on everyone, despite his hardships.

At the close of the night as I drove down South Church Street I was pleased that our count included one less homeless person. Mr. Jerry... As many of you know a man named Jerry Bogle was recently placed into an apartment that he pays for on his own. It was just a matter of securing a deposit and paying rent for the first month. My thought - - It starts with helping just one.

Read more on my blog "Small Town Big World."

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homeless, homeless count, Murfreesboro news, Scott Walker, street photography
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