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Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week events
•On Tuesday, people are encouraged to stuff $5 they might spend on lunch in an envelope and drop it off at the Rescue Mission at 301 W. Superior Street. Rescue officials said $5 can feed lunch to three people daily.
•On Wednesday, there will be two “Tour and Learn” events, each beginning at the Rescue Mission. The tours will take individuals downtown to get a look at the shelters and service providers in the area. The first tour begins at noon; the second at 4:30 p.m. To RSVP, please contact Leesa Huston at leesa@therescuemission.net or at 426-7357 ext 136.
•On Friday, a free screening of the documentary “American Winter” will be held at the University of Saint Francis north campus (the former Abundant Life Church on Spring Street). Doors open at 5:30 p.m.; screening begins at 6:30 p.m. For more information, contact Melissa Gibson at melissa@therescuemission.net or at 426-7357 ext. 130.
Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Gary Chester talks about being formerly homeless Monday at the kickoff of Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week on the Courthouse Green.

"What I found was hope"

City brings awareness of homelessness

He spent years living in vacant homes or finding shelter in the stairwells of apartment buildings.

He chased one drug high to the next, and that was the basis of his entire existence.

Then one September morning in 2009, Gary Chester wound up at The Rescue Mission in downtown Fort Wayne.

All he wanted was breakfast, something to put into his stomach, but what he received was something else entirely.

Soon, he found nothing he did had to be permanent – that the life he lived did not have to last forever.

“What I found at The Rescue Mission was hope,” Chester said, speaking before several dozen people Monday.

Chester’s brief testimonial about his homelessness was front and center as a way for shelter and city officials to recognize Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

Observed every year leading up to Thanksgiving, the week is used by officials to bring attention to the plight of the homeless.

Several events are planned throughout the week to deal with the problem, which officials say is constant. A press conference to kick off the week was held at the Allen County Courthouse Green Monday.

“The character of a community is measured in large part in the way it responds to its most vulnerable citizens,” said Rev. Terry Anderson, the executive director of Just Neighbors (Interfaith Hospitality Network).

Officials at the press conference said that the number of homeless people in northeast Indiana can be anywhere from 2,000 to 3,500 people.

Officials said there has been a 300 percent increase in homeless veterans in the past year, and that the face of homelessness is changing, as well.

No longer is it strictly the myth most people think of commonly: that of a drug-addicted man who ends up living under a bridge.

Instead, it’s families.

Many of which have fallen on hard times, or were poor to begin with and had something catastrophic happen to them.

This could be something as major as a medical condition or illness arising to something else most people don’t think much about, like a car breaking down.

To many, that is nothing.

To some struggling families, it’s devastating, Anderson said.

“They want to be independent and self-sufficient. They are not lazy,” said Anderson of the homeless. “They do not know where to turn.”

There are places, though.

Several, in fact.

That includes The Rescue Mission, where Gary Chester found himself looking for breakfast one morning in 2009.

The cook that morning dropped his spoon and came around the counter to speak with Chester, he recounted Monday.

The cook convinced him to stay for one hour.

That turned into a day. That day turned into a week, then a month and so on.

Chester began to turn his life around, he said.

He no longer sleeps in stairwells. He no longer chases highs, he said. Vacant houses aren’t his homes.

Now, he has connections.

“I’m a father, a son, a brother,” he said Monday. “I have grandchildren who don’t know that life.”

He had been chasing an “ugly” end, he said Monday.

Instead, he found nothing has to be permanent – including a home in the streets.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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