For the past 10 years, I have been a volunteer doctor at the free medical clinic on Thursday evening. Due to time constraints, I never have time to learn more about the patients. Now that I’m semiretired, I try to spend Thursday mornings helping out at the Love in Action facility in the old Dakota Coffeeworks building on West Main Street, and I’m interested in how many people end up homeless in Dothan.
I’ve started asking them to share their story with me. On March 12, I met David. I was told by another volunteer that the homeless need firewood to keep warm and cook, so I brought a load of firewood in the bed of my truck. I asked Love in Action director Ken Tuck to point out someone living in the tent city who might need wood. Tuck pointed toward a tall thin black man with a scraggly beard.
I walked over to David and introduced myself. He said, “Hey, doc, I know you. I came to clinic last month with chest pains. The medicine you gave me fixed it.”
“Ken said you’d like some firewood,” I told him. “I’ve got some in my truck over there,” pointing to it.
“Yeah, but I got no money,” he said.
“No problem; it’s free,” I replied.
We walked over to my truck and David started to climb up in the back.
“No, ride up front with me,” I said, and he seemed surprised to be allowed to sit in the cab and not the back. As we drove out East Main, I asked how he ended up in Dothan homeless.
“About two years ago, me and this girl drove down in my old car looking for a job from Chicago. We both got on at Wayne Farms in Enterprise. I got us a place to stay, doing fine ’til a few months back. I wrecked my car, ended up in jail a few weeks. When I got out, she was gone. My license and I.D. was in the car and lost.
“I’ve been homeless since then. But I got a new license and am looking for a job.”
About then, we pulled in to his campsite on Range Street, just north of the 84 West overpass. It’s a wooded area down a bank toward the creek that flows from Poplar Head spring west behind the jail.
I backed in, and we unloaded his wood. David showed me the larger tent that serves as a communal tent for eating and socializing at night. There were some shirts that had been washed in the creek hanging on a tree. His tent was a small two-man tent on level ground near the creek. Someone had cut a small 6-inch gash along the side. David said some kids sometimes come in when he’s gone and tear up his and the other three homeless tents while they are out.
After the tour, we headed back to Love in Action.
“David, what are your plans on getting out of this tent?” I asked.
“I’m gonna get me a job and save enough for a bus ticket back home to Chicago. My dad’s got prostate cancer and asked me to come home and look after him. My baby sister pays my cellphone bill so we can talk, and I’m gonna pay her back.”
“Well, David, I hope you make it,” I said. “I know your family needs you.”
As we pulled back into Love in Action, Tuck was just starting the morning’s service with hymns, then a short message and breakfast.
As David got out, I handed him some cash and said, “Put this on your bus ticket home.”
I pray David gets a job, saves the money and buys his ticket home to Chicago.