Thomas Williams waited for his turn in the barber’s chair Friday morning and talked about being homeless and living on the streets of Waco for the past five months.
“It’s not safe,” the 59-year-old said. “People are always messing with you, and then there’s the weather, this heat. I sleep outside, and it’s not good for you, let me tell you, brother.”
Williams was among 90 homeless people who took advantage of services offered Friday morning by about 40 nonprofit organizations and others at Project Homeless Connect. The event was sponsored by the Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition, NeighborWorks Waco and the Department of Veteran Affairs on NeighborWorks property at 1001 Mary Ave.
Williams, who said he suffers seizures, lived with a relative before becoming homeless and is trying to get Social Security disability benefits.
“Let’s just say there was a failure to communicate,” Williams said when asked how he became homeless. “That covers it all. You could say I was trying to avoid a dangerous situation.”
While he sleeps outside, Williams said he gets food at the Salvation Army, the Meyer Center or at Caritas.
Williams went to prison for a time after he said he found some credit cards that didn’t belong to him and used them. He said he is grateful for the groups that sponsor Project Homeless Connect.
“This is a blessing,” he said. “I’m almost 60. I appreciate what these people are doing for me. I’ve got sense. Some of these other guys don’t. They aren’t thankful. They think people owe them everything. Don’t nobody owe them anything. They ought to be thankful, but they’re not. That’s what separates the good from the bad.”
Some of the vendors represented Friday offered assistance with veterans services and benefits, mental health, substance abuse, employment, health and vision screening, HIV testing, housing information and more. They passed out bug spray, sun screen, T-shirts and snacks, while Sammy Anderson of the Heads Up barbershop at 1625 Herring Ave. provided haircuts and trimmed beards.
Members of the Baylor University women’s basketball team, the baseball team and the acrobatics and tumbling team volunteered their time at the event.
“It is just nice seeing people from the community, and being able to help them is a great feeling, just putting a smile on their face,” said Lauren Cox, a sophomore basketball player from Flower Mound who was passing out doughnuts and cold water with her teammates.
Roy Nash, president and CEO of NeighborWorks Waco, deemed the event a success. Nash said the groups have held the event for years in January at the Waco Convention Center. However, they have come to realize that there likely is a need for it more than once a year, he said.
“This is a great place to have this event. Mary Avenue gets a whole lot of homeless traffic, and we are so pleased that the community has turned out and the agencies that reach out to the homeless folks are here en masse,” Nash said. “We are going to minister to all the homeless folks in Waco, men, women and even some children.”
Stacey Steger, homeless outreach and engagement provider for the Project for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness, known as PATH, also praised the event and its sponsors.
Her group, which is affiliated with Heart of Texas MHMR office, goes to shelters, along the river and under bridges to meet homeless people and to help them get mental health care and substance abuse treatment if they need it and to help them get back on track toward a better life.
“It is one person at a time,” Steger said. “With each life, with each life you change, it is one at a time, and it betters the community and gives everybody a better life.”