Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

HOMELESS; Hope Shines

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

HOMELESS; Hope Shines

Article excerpt

Sonny, Ghost Lady and their dog Tiny live outside an abandoned house on the corner of a busy intersection in Riverside.

They use the surrounding brick walls to dry their clothes and socks. A grocery cart sits off to the side, serving as the chest of drawers that holds bags of clothes, bottles, newspapers and styrofoam cups. Sometimes they eat. Sometimes they don't.

Charlie lives in the woods off Beaver Street. He uses plastic tarps tied between trees for cover when it rains. Empty plastic soda bottles, scrunched up, adorn the ground, serving as his carpet. He uses a barrel to keep himself warm in the winter and to dry his socks in the summer.

Mr. Searsy lives a simple life in the woods across from John. E. Ford Elementary School. He's been living there for five years. This man prefers the solitary way of life, using just the trees and grass around him to provide for his needs.

These are just a few of Jacksonville's 3,000 homeless people.

Living on the streets is a choice. Most of the homeless suffer from mental illness. A common coping mechanism is alcohol or drugs, sometimes both. Some of them have jobs. Others do not.

The one thing they all have in common is the I.M. Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless, or rather, the two people who run the Hope Team.

Jackie Brown and Jim Bowls look after those who live on the streets. Through a $138,000 grant from the city of Jacksonville, which started in 2001, Brown and Bowls load up the Hope Team van each day with bagged lunches, water, socks, T-shirts and hygiene bags of toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap.

They drive the streets of downtown Jacksonville and the Northside, checking out the various homeless camps in those areas. They are looking for their clients, to see if they are hungry, to see if they need a pair of socks, or a warm coat. Knowing where their clients are is a challenge.

Ninety percent of their clients don't want to move into the Sulzbacher shelter. Some, because they are afraid, some because they've lived in shelters before, others still because they don't have the coping skills to stay on medication for their mental illness. …

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