Campaign enters final stretch to change homeless man’s life

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published April 18, 2017

 Ray, left, spends a moment with Sam Anderson, pastor at Central Church, on a sunny afternoon April 12. Ray, who is homeless, has been volunteering at the church as its groundskeeper. Now the small church in Madison Heights is trying to raise $10,000 on generosity.com to help turn Ray’s life around and make him self-sufficient again. At press time, they just needed $2,000. Anything extra will help with other costs.

Ray, left, spends a moment with Sam Anderson, pastor at Central Church, on a sunny afternoon April 12. Ray, who is homeless, has been volunteering at the church as its groundskeeper. Now the small church in Madison Heights is trying to raise $10,000 on generosity.com to help turn Ray’s life around and make him self-sufficient again. At press time, they just needed $2,000. Anything extra will help with other costs.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

MADISON HEIGHTS — The windows were cracked open at Central Church the morning of April 12, and fresh air was spilling into the spacious children’s room. Inside, the ceiling was torn out and being rewired. Everything was in disarray — but one man was hard at work, tidying up the place.

Grasping a mop with well-worn hands, black with grime, the man known simply as “Ray” worked with gusto, his bright blue eyes fixed on the task before him. He’s been volunteering as the church’s groundskeeper for months now, keeping the place safe and secure.

It’s a night-and-day difference from the situation he’d been in previously, and the closest thing Ray has to a home. That’s because Ray doesn’t actually have a home. Previously a union bricklayer, he lost everything in a house fire and was left penniless after a problem with the insurance claim. Adrift on the streets, he struggled to find work and a way forward. He felt betrayed, lost and hopeless.

But his homelessness may soon change, as well: A fundraising campaign is underway to get him a mobile home and a vehicle, with the ultimate goal of re-establishing him in the work world so he can be self-sufficient. The campaign is in its final and most difficult stretch — with $8,000 of its $10,000 goal raised, at press time. Anything beyond that will help with other critical costs.

Right now is an opportunity to contribute a little and make a huge impact on someone’s life. The link to the fundraiser is generosity.com/community-fundraising/help-home-free-ray-get-a-home--2. 

Sitting in the pastor’s office at Central Church, Ray was clearly still reeling from the kindness the church has shown him. 

“People say it a lot, where they go to a church and it feels like family. It sounds cliché, but here it’s true,” Ray said. “I’ve lost my family; I’ve lost everything. But the people here, they feel like a new family for me. Everyone is so loving. Everyone is so caring.”

Changing fortunes
It was about a year ago when two homeless men began sleeping under the carport at the small church in Madison Heights. Ray was one of them, and the other was a man named Marty.

Ray said Marty was a decent person but had trust issues, which made it difficult for the church to help them more directly. The men would try to stay warm by covering up with cardboard boxes, strips of carpet, blankets — anything they could find to survive the cold nights ahead.

Then about a week before Christmas, Marty was found unresponsive under the carport, dead from hypothermia. The church then leapt into action to get Ray into a warmer and safer situation.

Sam Anderson, the pastor of Central Church, took his brother’s Jeep, which was sitting in the lot awaiting repairs, and put a space heater inside, running an extension cord to the church building. This provided Ray a warm place to sleep at night. Since then, Ray has joined the church community, attending services regularly and working as a handyman.

“Ray is one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. I say ‘generous’ because he’s always so willing to be available for people with his time,” said Leo Bautista, worship leader at the church. “He really cares a lot about the people at the church, and about people in general. It’s been cool getting to know Ray. Once you meet him, you can’t help but want to help him. You want to see this guy get back on his feet.

“I’ve never heard him complain, either,” Bautista added. “He wants to have a home and a normal lifestyle, of course, but even so, he doesn’t complain. He just has the biggest heart in the whole world. I’m at the church every day, and I’m always blown away by him and learning from him.”

Anderson explained that the fundraising campaign is designed to rebuild Ray’s life and then slowly wean him off support. The plan is to do this in six-month tiers, with the church covering everything for the first six months, then Ray paying for gas and electric the second six months, and then Ray covering that, plus half of the lot fees for the six months that follow.

Of the $10,000, about $3,500 will go toward a mobile home in a nearby trailer park, $5,000 will pay for lot fees and utilities for the first year, and $1,500 will pay for home renovation and basic needs — furniture, clothes, toiletries, bedding and so on. Any additional money will go toward the renovation and upkeep of the mobile home, and assist in any fees incurred reinstating his driver’s license and securing reliable transportation.

“We want to get him working. Hopefully, we can worry about his utilities for now so he can worry about consistency of schedule, consistency of work, and just normalcy — the normal ebb and flow of life,” Anderson said. “Slowly, as he gets better at that, he’ll incur more responsibility. It’s baby steps in the right direction. The end goal is to assimilate him back into society and to help him become self-sufficient.” 
  
Attitude of gratitude
During his time on the streets, Ray would often move between warming shelters, traveling from one church to another. He said he appreciates the assistance these churches provide, but he feels humbled by how Central Church, in particular, has treated him like a family member, looking out for his well-being in the long run.

“This really is a community effort church,” Ray said. “There’s a lot of effort toward being loving, caring, sharing, giving. Inside, they’re all good human beings.”

He also hopes that his story will help people empathize with the homeless. It was a situation he never thought he’d find himself in, but through it, he’s learned a lot. Homeless people are just that — people without homes — and many have experienced personal loss or trauma that could happen to anyone. He’s known homeless people who were honorably discharged military veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after serving overseas. He’s known homeless people who were victims of domestic abuse or struggling with illness. 

He said he appreciates that Central Church has treated him with love and dignity, rather than judging him and being standoffish.

The church is likewise impressed with Ray.

“Ray is one of the most giving people I know. It’s crazy, because he doesn’t really have much to give, but all that he has, he gives,” Anderson said. “I was talking with him the other day about this project and the mobile home and everything, and he said one of the coolest things about this is that one day this mobile home will be able to help someone else. He said this isn’t his endgame; this is just helping him get back on his feet.

“The fact that he’s even thinking along those lines is extremely telling of his personality,” Anderson said. “This is not Ray’s final destination.”

Central Church is located at 1529 E. 12 Mile Road in Madison Heights and can be reached by calling (248) 547-3555. The link for the fundraiser is www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/help-home-free-ray-get-a-home--2.