Transforming Lives Through
Showing Christ's Love.

Editor's note: Memorial Day is set aside to honor men and women in uniform who died fighting for American freedoms. Today, the start of Memorial Day Weekend, we also want to remember the struggles of veterans who live on the streets or in tent camps and how Florida Methodists are trying to help. For a related story, click here.

They are invisible people living in the shadows of the Sunshine State.

Homeless veterans surviving on half-eaten meals from garbage bins, sleeping in ramshackle tents in the woods, carving out a primitive existence on the edge of a society they served in uniform.
The number of veterans living on the streets in Florida on any given night is about 12,000, approximately 13 percent of the state’s homeless population, according to a 2011 Florida Council on Homelessness report.

Now United Methodist churches across Florida are reaching out to homeless veterans, hoping to help break the cycle of despair.

Janet Spivey and her husband, Curtis, members of St. Catherine UMC, Bushnell, are among those trying to help.

They are members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a group that provides motorcycle escorts for military funerals. Through that volunteer service, the Spiveys met a disabled veteran who talked about a tremendous need for housing for veterans.

In January, when members of St. Catherine’s were discussing possible new outreach ministries, Janet suggested helping homeless veterans. 

"If not for them, we wouldn't be free to worship where we choose," she said.

The congregation and Pastor Haig Medzarentz agreed. Janet contacted the Sumter County Veterans Service Office, which referred her to other counties where there is a need, and the church began collecting clothes and money for sleeping bags and tents. 

"The response has been overwhelming," Janet said. 

First UMC, Bushnell, donated everything left over from a church rummage sale. A Lutheran Church in Brooksville donated 19 boxes of men's and women's clothing, while a local Baptist Church collected clothes, blankets and money for the ministry. A Methodist couple, John and Kitty Hahn, who travel and do mission work, scoured thrift stores for clothes and donated handmade wooden crosses to be given to veterans. 

What was supposed to be a short-term ministry has grown into much more, with the Spiveys recently adding a storage unit where they can collect furniture that will be needed when homeless veterans move into apartments

"It now has just snowballed into a wonderful outpouring of love and support," Janet said. 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that 131,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, while the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans puts the number closer to 200,000.  

Florida has the nation's third-highest homeless population, estimated at 56,000, and a 2011 report from the Florida Department of Children and Families puts the number of homeless veterans at 12,240, second only to California. 

There is no known homeless veterans' camp near St. Catherine's, so the Spiveys work with Tampa Crossroads and other agencies to find homeless veterans in need in Hillsborough, Pasco, Lake, Sumter and Citrus counties.

“I wouldn’t take just anyone out to the homeless camps, but Janet and Curtis are solid people who really want to help,” said Thomas Brown, an outreach coordinator with Tampa Crossroads. The nonprofit group runs halfway houses that help homeless vets.

Brown, an Army veteran, visits three or four homeless camps daily. He said donations mean a lot to the veterans.

“It makes a huge difference in their morale if nothing else.”

Brown cited VA reports that show recently discharged veterans facing an unemployment rate three times the national average.

“There’s a perception out there that homeless vets are all drug addicts and alcoholics, but that is not the way it is,” he said.

“I know people who were successful in law enforcement and health care who are now living on the streets. They are just like anyone else, but they have fallen on hard times. They want to be successful, but they have some obstacles in their way.”

Some just want to be left alone, he said, but for others he sets up interviews with caseworkers who line up benefits, housing and job leads.

Janet said the homeless she helps are grateful and take only what they need. She remembered a former soldier nicknamed "Caveman," who had requested a sleeping bag. She brought him that and a jacket.

"I said, 'Look at this nice jacket. It's just your size.' And the tears just rolled down his face."

She and Curtis also take Bibles. 

"I don't push them on the people," Janet said, "but they're out there, and if they can read it, it gives them a little bit of hope." 

Homeless no more, Norman had lived in the woods for years when he first came to the cold weather shelter at First UMC, Port Orange.

The shelter in the church’s fellowship hall opens when the local temperature falls below 40 degrees, providing a hot dinner, thick mats, plenty of blankets and a hot breakfast in the morning.

“On the nights we would open the shelter, Norman would ride his bicycle over to the church early and help us cook and set up for the night,” said Christie Hyde, coordinator at Room At The Inn Cold Weather Homeless Shelter.

Norman grew close to the shelter’s previous coordinator, Mike Ellis, who counseled the veteran and helped him focus less on anger and negativity.

“Mike would have Norman over to his house to do laundry, cook him meals and became his friend as well as his counselor,” Hyde said.

Not long after Ellis moved to Washington State, Norman got his own apartment. He continued to volunteer at the church’s Thrift Boutique and is a fixture at the shelter.

“Even though he now has a place to stay, he sleeps at the shelter overnight anytime we’re open to watch over things and provide consistency through the night as our volunteer shifts swap out,” Hyde 

Men and women veterans often spend time in the tents, and Janet remembered one homeless couple, both veterans, who had children ages 9 and 10 with them before one of the agencies found them an apartment.

She said some return from combat and simply can't find a job. Many, particularly Vietnam and Desert Storm veterans, have disabilities stemming from emotional trauma or chemical exposure, she said.

Caveman said he has been mostly living in a tent since 2002. He occasionally works odd jobs."But I got some medical problems," he said. 

"I think the majority of what we're seeing are victims of circumstance," said Janet, whose first husband, a Marine, died in Vietnam in 1965. "If they [people] knew, I think there would be a lot more caring."

Daniel, a neighbor of Caveman's who helps look out for him, said he has been homeless for 19 years, living in other states before Florida. He said having no permanent address has hurt his job opportunities.

He said he appreciates the Spiveys.
"They talk to me like I'm a human, not like a piece of dirt."

-- Kevin Brady is a freelance writer based in the Tampa area. Florida Conference Connection editor Susan Green contributed to this story.

You can help the homeless veterans in our area by volunteering to help with The Gathering held on Sunday mornings in the Chapel and Fellowship Hall.  Some of our volunteers start as early as 5:30 am.  The chapel service starts at 7 am.  Volunteers feed, clothe and minister to many homeless men and women.  Come and find out how you can help.

We are still meeting Wednesday nights at 6:30 PM
in the Conference Room.  Other Bible Study opportunities:
Both are at Come To The Well 1820 59th Street West Bradenton
  Summertime means vacation time. 
NO Wednesday Fellowship Dinners until September.  Wednesday Choir and Handbell practices will be on break June 1 - September.
Young at Heart luncheons and activities are open to all. 
Please join us Tuesday, June 6, at the Country Kitchen, 5227 Manatee Avenue at 11:30 a.m.  We need an approximate number for the restaurant, but if you decide that morning to come it is okay,  we’ll pull up another chair.  Call Bev Clapper @ 756-9091 and let her know if you are coming.
June 1st is the start of hurricane season.  
As a congregation we would like to collect Relief-Supply Kits for our community and church.  These supplies enable people to begin the overwhelming job of cleaning up after a flood or hurricane.

Cleaning Bucket Value: approximately $65 per bucket
You can collect the items and bring to church or donate the money for 1 bucket by writing your check to FUMCB and putting "bucket" in the memo.  
F or the supply list click on the button below:
The Gathering, First Church's Homeless Ministry 

NEEDS: insect repellant, jeans, waist 32; tennis shoes, sizes 9 ½ and 10, t-shirts

All Toiletries (especially, shampoo, mouthwash)

Calling all members of FUMCB and anyone else interested in serving!

During the summer months, June – September, many of the regular volunteers at the Gathering will be traveling. If anyone feels led by the Spirit to participate in The Gathering Outreach, you are needed, especially anyone and everyone who has a propensity to cook. Please contact Rosalind Kepler, Barbara Edwards or Marita Herrera if you are able to participate. All positions needed: cooks, dishwashers, servers, and those willing to fellowship with our patrons and collect prayer requests (the best job of all).

Thank you in advance!

Pie, Pie, Get Your Pies
Made to order by our own Patti Gee. 
$20.00  All proceeds go to the general fund.


Apple, Double-crusted              Blueberry
Cherry                                           Key Lime
Pecan Pie                                      Pumpkin

Choose your pie and give Patti a call @ 941-981-5648 or click on the email button.  1 Week advance notice needed. 
Sunday Mornings @ 9 AM

Pastor Clark is delivering the sermon every week during their soft contemporary service at Come to The Well
1820 59th Street West in Bradenton
Little Dresses for  Missions
Tuesday mornings 10:00am - 12noon at Come To The Well.
Little girls in around the world will experience clothing made with loving hands! Simple handmade dresses from pillowcases will be delivered directly through missionaries in remote areas of the world. Come To The Well is equipped with all the sewing equipment needed to complete these cute dresses on site. If you are not able to come share in the sewing experience, donations of new pillowcases, 1/4" elastic and seam bindings would be greatly appreciated. 

Have you been here yet?  We are partnering with them to grow as a community church.

Experience the Prayer Room, Share Library, or spend time with a friend. Outdoor Area available to share a cup of coffee from the coffee shop next door.

Monday              9am - 2pm
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday  9am - 6pm
Friday                 9am - 1pm

Check the schedule for classes, workshops, retreats, mission work, worship opportunities and other exciting opportunities for you to grow in your faith walk.
 Cruise to Cuba 2017 Cultural & Church Immersion Program
8 days in  Cuba

November 6 - November 13, 2017  

You will start and end your cruise in Havana, Cuba. A unique part of the cruise will be your excursions in each port.  Most excursions are included in your cruise package and pricing.  The excursions will show you the authentic side of Cuba.  
In addition, EO guests will have exclusive visits to churches and ministries to learn the history of the church in Cuba and interact with clergy and ministry workers.  There are active churches and ministries from many denominations in Cuba - Catholic, United Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, and more.  You will visit some of these churches in each port.  For more information contact Jackie Kelsey by clicking on the button below.
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