One resident served by Dining with Dignity is Ronnie. He lives in the neighborhood in substandard housing. Offering landscaping services he is regularly seen around town on his bike moving between lawns he is caring for as well as visiting his longtime girlfriend who is recovering from a stroke at a local nursing home. Realizing that alcohol was a barrier in his ability to change his situation, Ronnie worked hard and eliminated alcohol from his life, and has a positive attitude towards staying away from it. Al Deinhart describes him as a “true southern gentleman”, and is inspired by his willingness to reach out to assist elderly and disabled neighbors with the hard work he provides.

The Face of Homelessness

Homelessness can sometimes sneak up on you – and that is how it was for our friend Brett Hancock, who today lives in a small home in St. Augustine Shores and offers his time as the outreach van driver for Home Again St. Johns. A few months ago, however, that was not the case.

Brett grew up in Chelsea, Massachusetts and always dreamed of being a school teacher. After graduating from Bridgewater State University and earning his Bachelor Degree, he spent the next 20 years teaching – a few years as a middle school science teacher and the rest as an elementary teacher at a Catholic school in Fort Lauderdale. In June 2009, however, bad economic times resulted in the closing of the Catholic school. However, Brett had feared this for a while and had been supplementing his income with some part-time consulting as well as part-time teaching on the side. For over three years after the Catholic school closed Brett was able to get by on the income from these other endeavors, however, this ended when he lost his home in Fort Lauderdale in September 2013.

After losing his home, with the dollars he had left, Brett remembered good times in his past he had spent in St. Augustine and decided to try St. Johns County for a new start. Despite his stellar qualifications, no local school hired him.

Brett was stuck, but was happy that he was able to secure a bedroom at a home west of townwith the money he did have. However, more unforeseen trouble struck when shortly after his move to St. Augustine, he was bit by a brown recluse spider and hospitalized 29 days at Flagler Hospital. His condition was so bad, he shared, that “I got a huge wake-up call, I feared that I would lose my leg. When I awoke after surgery, I was so happy when I looked down and saw my toes!”

When it came time for his release, it was recommended that Brett receive regular after-care until he had made a full recovery. However, this worried Brett because he was uninsured, would need regular nurse visits and follow-up appointments, and the home where he was staying was too far out for him to regularly make it back into town. Working side-by-side with a Flagler Hospital case manager, and after many days of hard work, Brett was placed in a small apartment unit attached a local shelter located in downtown St. Augustine. Here, he would have access to care for his leg as well as support to make it his regular follow up appointments. Being uninsured, most of his daily after care was on his own shoulders. “I had to learn to take care of myself which was a very valuable lesson,” Brett shared.

Over the past few months, Brett has started doing some odd jobs as well as taken a position as a weekend house parent for special-need adults. This income has allowed Brett to rent a small home in St. Augustine Shores. On the side, Brett assists at Home Again St. Johns as the outreach van driver. Though things are looking up, Brett still has challenges ahead. In the coming months, his car lease will end and without a strong work history over the past 6 months, he fears not being able to get a loan to either buy the car or start a new lease. He appreciates that once issues begin to develop, loss of work, health issues, etc., they often compound over time until they become so overwhelming that many get stuck.

Despite this, Brett is looking forward to giving back now and to assisting others who need help getting back on their feet.  He stated, “ I’m extremely grateful for everyone that has helped me regain my strength up to this point and I am looking forward to what the future will bring.”