Motivated to Serve

(PHOTO BY ELLIE BOGUE)

Making them count

Bringing food, warmth to the homeless

By Bonnie Blackburn
On a cold winter’s day in January 2012, Sally Segerson did something she had never before considered. She went out, peering under bridges, looking into the faces of men and women who live outside of four warm walls and she counted them.

A couple of days earlier, it wouldn’t have occurred to her that there are homeless people living in Fort Wayne. You don’t often see people panhandling or sleeping on grates like you do in other cities. But a chance posting on Facebook, looking for volunteers to participate in the annual homeless count needed for the city to receive federal homeless assistance money, intrigued her. So there she was, in the cold and the gathering dark, looking for people who call a viaduct or a doorway home.

Seeing those faces startled her.

"It was a tearful ride home,” she said. “How could I live in this city and not realize there were people who lived under bridges and in stairways? For me to notice and see it and to turn my back on it would be wrong.”

Segerson became “Miss Sally,” bringing hot meals and warm blankets, coats, mittens, boots — anything, really, that would make life on the streets a little easier. Mondays and Thursdays are “Dinner and Duds” beginning around 8 p.m. at an undisclosed location “under the stars” downtown. Downtown, because it’s centrally located; undisclosed, because she doesn’t want to scare off business. The homeless spread the word to each other.

“I help those people who have for whatever reason” become homeless, she said. About 20 to 25 percent have addiction problems; another 20 percent deal with mental illnesses. The rest have made choices, or have had choices thrust upon them due to the economy, that left them without a home. She doesn’t ask questions.

Nobody really knows how many people are homeless in Allen County — the counts don’t find everyone because they don’t look everywhere people find shelter. They will walk for miles to join her group for hot meals and to get a blanket or a sleeping bag donated at one of the dozen drop-off sites Segerson has lined up. She calls it “Street Reach for the Homeless” and says she’s not going to incorporate, because then you get bogged down in bureaucracy.

Is she enabling the homeless to stay unhoused? Maybe. But she’s also helping those human beings live slightly more comfortably while they deal with the situations that led them to live on the streets. And sitting down and eating a hot meal together, well, maybe that help them remember what life is like in a family.

“The challenge becomes, how do we pull these people back into the life you and I enjoy,” she said. “How could I not want that life for somebody else?”

Posted: Tue, 02/12/2013 - 1:57 pm
Last updated: Tue, 03/12/2013 - 12:43 pm