Last January, while bundled in a coat and scarf against freezing temperatures, Lori Floyd made her way through a patch of woods off Highway 202. She had heard about a possible encampment of homeless people living in the area. As the executive director of The Right Place housing assistance agency, she wanted to offer help. Val Mason, the agency’s project director, accompanied her.
What the two women discovered was a structure resembling a circus tent, fashioned from a series of large tarps overlapping each other. Smaller camping-style tents surrounded the larger one.
“Hello!” Lori called out.
Her greeting was answered by an older man who appeared through a slit in the tarp. “Good morning,” he said.
Lori and Val introduced themselves
and explained the reason for their visit. The man, named David, invited them to come inside.
They were surprised to see that the interior was well secured against the elements and resembled a gathering spot of sorts. The smaller tents all had openings to the larger one. “It was as if this was the living room, and those were the bedrooms,” Lori said.
In the center was a pit in which a campfire was burning.
The man took a couple of buckets, turned them upside down, brushed them off and invited Lori and Val to take a seat. “I’m making coffee,” he said. “Would you like a cup?”
At that moment Lori was struck by the fact that, even though she and Val had come to help this man, “here he was taking care of us,” she said.
She asked about the individual tents and learned that, while they were currently vacant, they had been occupied in the past. People come and go, he explained. At any time, newcomers might arrive. Most everyone gets along with each other, he said, but there was one time when he had to evict someone. It was a visitor who didn’t attempt to clean up after himself, leaving trash everywhere. “I wasn’t having that,” he said.
Lori gave David her business card and told him he was welcome to visit The Right Place office whenever he wanted.
“He uses a bicycle to get around and stops in to see us now and then,” Val said. “But he’s never asked us for anything.”
Occasionally the women find a way to help him on their own. For example, they learned he has an elderly sister who lives in the northern part of the county. She owns a car that she might pass along to him someday, but he would need a driver’s license. Val gave him a ride to the state troopers office and let him use her car to take the test.
They also learned that David is a veteran of the Marine Corps but was unable to access benefits because he couldn’t prove his service. They requested a DD Form 214 verifying military service on his behalf from the Defense Department. “We’ve done that for a lot of veterans in our area,” Val said.
Both women describe David as “friendly,” but feel certain he suffers from anxiety issues. He will relocate his camp when too many people take an interest. Lori suspects it was the military that taught him survival skills. “He’s very resourceful,” she said. “He just prefers to keep to himself. We’ve offered to help him find housing, but he’s not ready for that.”
Since The Right Place opened its doors in 2012, the organization has found homes for 185 adults and 93 children. In addition to building a series of tiny cottages behind the office, the group has turned existing substandard housing into livable dwellings.
For those individuals and families still living on the streets, the agency will use funds raised from the recent Doctors vs. Lawyers Charity Hoops basketball game to buy things like umbrellas and blankets.
If your study club, civic group or Sunday school class needs a guest speaker, Lori is available to talk about The Right Place and its mission. Visit The Right Place Anniston on Facebook for more information, or call 256-238-6231.
Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.