From the Woods to a Home: Pat’s Story
This is Pat’s story. Much of it is in her own words, the words that she shared with me as we walked together for seven months of her journey out of homelessness from January through July of 2016. Some of the details are changed to provide some privacy. We are telling the story so that others may be helped to make their own journey to a home or to assist someone who is making that journey. The picture below is where the journey begins. Pat lived there for over a year and moved “from pillar to post” for several months before that. On August 1, 2016 Pat moved into her own beautiful home in a Senior Citizen’s Housing complex in Belle Glades , Florida.
“I lived in a small tent in the woods behind the Supermarket in San Carlos Park, Fort Myers, Florida. I had to live outside because I was “downsized” and I lost my job about two years ago. I have worked my whole life since I was fourteen and I left school. I got a little slower when I had a stroke a few years ago. My mother died when I was little and my Dad raised me. I learned how to live rough with him, so I sort of knew how to live in a tent. I was a good worker but they let the older ones go. I gave up my shared apartment and moved in with my family but I was not a welcomed “in-law”. I left after six months or so to make it easier for them and to get away from the conflict. I could not get another job.”
“I just walked all the time, sleeping behind buildings at night. I was so tired. It was better when I finally found a spot in the woods. People were kind to me when I used the facilities in the Supermarket. People who worked there gave me food and an umbrella and other needed items. They became my friends. One of the customers gave me a new bike so I could get around and when I got my Social Security I paid her back. The Vet in the office next to the Supermarket , Dr. Terry Sutton saw my cat Sarah for free when she got ear mites. That’s how I heard about you, from Dr. Sutton. She let me sit inside there on hot days too. When I made my 62nd Birthday in the woods I finally had an income from Social Security but it was not enough to just move out into an apartment. Now I could buy my own food, Sarah’s food and a few items. I didn’t know what to do but I was okay there until some rough younger men moved in near me. I became frightened. And I also heard and saw a coyote and was frightened for Sarah.I prayed every night that God would take care of us and find me a way. When you called and asked to visit with me I knew God had answered my prayer”.
We were both thankful to Dr. Sutton for referring Pat to Good Shepherd Ministries. Dr. Sutton has helped us many times with the pets of homeless and newly housed people, and with all of the animals in our corollary St. Francis Rescue Ministry . Pat feels that her cat Sarah who entered her life while living in the woods was her “ticket to a new life”. Sarah was her faithful companion and also “brought us together”.
Here is my second meeting with Pat in January of 2016. . We are sitting outside of the Supermarket and she is continuing to tell me her story while we fill our applications for Senior subsidized housing. I have asked her if she would like to have a room in the Hospitality House behind Good Shepherd Church and she is smiling because it has just become available. The gentleman living there had worked and saved his money and was now able to get his own apartment.
Very often people living outside have a difficult transition back in. Some need help with mental health issues and/or addictions. But this was not the case with Pat. She was ready to get back inside and agreed easily not to smoke inside and to keep our few rules. She was especially happy to be welcomed into the church, where she cried “happy tears” often saying ” I am so happy to have an inside home and a church home. I felt I could not go to church living outside and I wondered if church people would make me welcome or shun me. I saw a lot of hypocrisy in churches in my lifetime. But I am so happy to be in God’s house and to feel loved by everyone”. The picture below is Pat with her beloved Sarah in her room in the rear of the church on Ash Wednesday, February, 2016. Above, this is Pat with Pastor Judy Beaumont and Nancy and Brenda on Ash Wednesday. Below is Pat with Mr. Gary, our church Elder and her new friend Brenda.
As Pat continued to walk with us I realized that Pat welcomed new relationships to fill the space left by the conflicted and lost relationships that she left behind. The hurt of losing family members throughout her life and in the recent past left her with a deep sadness, and an area of her heart that she “closed off” and, in her words, ” she did without people” until she began again to make caring relationships. She shared with me that she struggled with forgiveness and it did not come easy for her. But “my heart is beginning to soften”. Pat enjoyed sharing her meals with Robert who lived in another of the rooms behind the church and she acted as building caretaker along with him. She especially loved getting the rear kitchen ready for the communal meal and Sunday School class after church. Both the caring community in her Supermarket Plaza world and in our church prepared her for taking a place in community.
Animals held a special place in her heart and she helped us to care for an abandoned dog until it was adopted. She also helped a large family who stayed with us for a short while by tending the small children and giving them her shopping cart to help them move. Pat began to be known by her generosity to others and her happy smile. This is Pat with the little dog she cared for for us. She said when she accompanied him to his new home: “He needed me and I needed him too. I am so glad he has a good home. ” How important it is for each of us to be needed.
A good deal of Pat’s time was spent in filling out Applications for housing far and wide as all local housing had a minimum of a two year waiting list. And Pat also began to pay off all old debts so that she could be eligible for subsidized housing when it became available. A grant from the Father’s Table Foundation enabled us to help her become debt free and have funds for moving and furniture when the time came. Pat also regularly donated to the church to pay back what she could. More than materially, she gave of herself and her concern for others.
It was most important to Pat to participate in the life of the church. She did this with great commitment and joy. In June, 2016 Pat elected to be Confirmed into the Church and eagerly prepared for this with prayer and reading and spiritual study. This is Pat and Bishop Andrea Johnson, RCWP and the
Confirmation class members. Pat said that “her heart was growing in love”. We were truly blessed to have Pat as a member of our church community. Below Pat, Brenda Cummings and Gaspare Randazzo wait for the Confirmation to begin.
In late July Pat was accepted to a Senior Housing Community in Belle Glades, Florida. Pat had lived in that area some years ago and was happy to return to small town life. Pat became close friends with our priest from South America, “Rev. Teresa” who became Pat’s next door neighbor in May, 2016. They shared meals and prayed together daily. When Pastor Judy Beaumont became ill and we could not accompany Pat to her new home, our assisting Pastor, Rev. Teresa was able to go for us. Another Good Shepherd temporary resident/neighbor Felice Rismay was able to drive Pat to visit her new home in July and to move in on August 1st,2015. Our church member Gaspare Randazzo who was also Confirmed with Pat, was able to assist with the move as was Cyrillia Rismay. The group set up Pat’s bed and kitchen and helped her organize her things before they reluctantly left. Leaving Pat behind was not easy, except that Pat was so very happy to be in her home. Rev. Teresa was able to bless Pat’s new home with the members of the Good Shepherd Community praying along with her. Pat let them know that she was very happy “to be home at last” and thanked them for their loving assistance. She tells me that Sarah is so happy there that she is not even hiding under the bed anymore, rather she is enjoying sitting on her new furniture and playing in her large space. Pat and Sarah especially like sitting by their sliding doors and watching the birds and squirrels on the other side.
This is Pat in her new living room with Ms. Brenda, the Property Manager (with pink umbrella) and Felice and Rev. Teresa. Below, Pat is at her front door and her bedroom and kitchen are prepared.
We are so thankful that Pat is home now. We miss her and her generous heart but we keep in touch. Pastor Teresa and I continue to accompany Pat by phone. We are so thankful that Pat’s membership in the family of God continues without walls. Pat has restored her place in community and we have no doubt that there will be a growing branch of the Good Shepherd Community in Belle glades Florida. Thanks be to God for allowing us to walk a while on the journey with Pat.
Pastor Teresa joins Pat on her new sofa. Pastor Judy Beaumont was able to arrange for furniture from the Lamb of God Thrift Store and also individuals including Kay Kersak donated a recliner and wonderful items for her. Below, Pat shows a favorite picture that we gave her.
May God Be with You, ‘Til We Meet Again, dear Pat!
Thanks be to God!
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee,RCWP
Co-Pastor Good shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community, Fort Myers, Florida