By Michael d’Oliveira | Editor
Pompano Beach – Gena Smith knows more than most what it’s like to finally get a shower after weeks of going without.
“It made me feel like I was somebody,” said Smith, who was homeless for nearly four years. “I was ready to take on the world.”
Her first shower after she became homeless was courtesy of Showering Love, an organization that provides free showers using a refitted bus with two stalls and a 300-gallon water tank. Each user gets a 10-minute shower.
“I used to take showers on this same bus and now I’m lucky enough to work here,” said Smith.
Her Showering Love co-worker Deana Allen is still homeless. Because they both understand what it’s like to live on the streets, they try to create a welcoming atmosphere.
Part of that atmosphere is to assure people that their stuff won’t be stolen while they shower.
“Even the homeless steal. It’s now,” said Smith.
At Showering Love, the opposite occurs: after a 10-minute shower, users can obtain a variety of free items, including a t-shirt, deodorant, feminine products and other hygiene items.
“Everything is brand-new because they deserve it,” said Smith.
Showering Love’s location rotates daily and it visits Pompano Beach, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. On July 30, the bus stopped at First Baptist Church in Pompano Beach.
Outside the bus that day, Jonas Morismo of Showering Love provided haircuts and shaves.
“It feels really nice, refreshing. It will be a lot cooler,” said Nichole Hardesty about the haircut Morismo gave her.
Because there’s such a demand for Morismo’s services, it’s been a long time between haircuts for Hardesty.
“She’s been trying to get a haircut from me for two months,” Morismo said.
Showering Love’s visits to First Baptist compliment another’s group’s charitable work there.
Every Saturday at 10 am, First Baptist partners with Mana Benevolent Outreach to feed individuals who are either homeless or need help getting food or clothing. Founded 25 years ago by Pastor Rueben Lima, who was unable to continue to volunteer because of health reasons, Mana volunteers, some of whom belong to First Baptist, hand out chicken, pasta, salad, cookies, water, a bagged lunch and other food items.
“Everybody does it to glorify God. That’s why I’m here,” said Mana volunteer Peter Tucker.
“I like coming here to help serve the homeless people, to pray for them, and to let them know God has better plans for their lives,” said Bill Short of the Calvary Chapel Motorcycle Ministry.
“It’s just how I was raised, to help others. I feel it’s the right thing to do,” said Mana volunteer Mike Skversky. “It’s called being raised on good family values.” Skversky estimates that 120 people came out to the July 30 feeding, but the number is sometimes as high as 135.
East of First Baptist at McNab Park, two individuals are taking up the cause of helping the homeless.
One, known only as Jimmy to those he helps, regularly brings food and water to the park and other spots in the city.
“He’s great. He comes by every day, makes sure we have food and water,” said Barry Cunningham. “I don’t even think he realizes how much he saved my life. . . This kid Jimmy is such a blessing. The goodness of his heart has touched me.”
One recent Friday evening, Jimmy brought a special treat: frozen popsicles.
“You know how good it was to get a frozen popsicle?” asked Cunningham. “It was fabulous.”
One night as Cunningham slept, he says Jimmy slipped a $5 bill under his head, which he later used to buy a meal at Wendy’s. At first, Cunningham, who was startled, thought he was about to be assaulted. It’s a symptom, he says, of living on the streets.
“I never thought I’d be out here,” said Cunningham, who grew up in a well-off family. “It sucks. But the homeless people out here. They’re good people.”
To Lisa Ruggiero, Jimmy is an example of how people in South Florida are more generous than where she grew up in Manhattan.
“I think he’s a sweetheart, I really do,” she said.
The other person helping at the park is Kirsten Erickson, a Pompano Beach resident who brings food and clothing. She also encourages the men and women she meets to get into detox and take advantage of the resources they qualify for, including Medicaid.
“Whatever anybody asks for, I try to get it,” she said.
“She’s a rockstar,” said Cunningham of Erickson.
But not everyone is as benevolent.
Cunningham says he and other homeless individuals are regularly assaulted by teenagers on golf carts who throw eggs, rocks, and shoot BB guns. Other homeless individuals interviewed by The New Pelican also shared their experiences with the teenagers.
Asked if anyone has reported the assaults, one man, who declined to give his name but whom Cunningham called Uncle Wayne, expressed little hope that talking to the police would help.
“The less you talk to them, the better.”
According to Carey Codd, senior public information officer with the Broward Sheriff’s Office [BSO]an individual made a delayed report on July 27 stating that he previously witnessed individuals on a golf cart throw rocks at homeless individuals along the 2400 block of East Atlantic Boulevard.
Deputies, said Codd, responded to the scene and began investigating, but no victims were located, and no other information has been reported.
A family member of one of the suspects was later found and a “clear warning about the seriousness of the incident” was issued. “It was also communicated that the only reason criminal charges were not being pursued at this time is because no victims have been located,” said Codd.
BSO urges anyone with information about the incident to contact BSO’s Pompano Beach District at 954-786-4201 or Broward Crime Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS .
As for proactive efforts, “BSO’s Pompano Beach District has three dedicated homeless outreach deputies who work closely with the homeless community, connect members of the homeless community to critical resources and social services and proactively seek out initiatives to help individuals end the cycle of homelessness, said Codd.
BSO and city officials work together to determine how to allocate BSO’s resources when it comes to homelessness and other issues.
Recently, the city commission voted to establish a community court to help individuals who commit first-time, low-level crimes a chance to get help with any problems that may have contributed to their actions and their homeless status.
The city has also allocated $3.5 million for various homeless and homeless prevention initiatives, including funding for community organizations such as Women In Distress, rental assistance, and Publix gift cards.
On an individual commissioner level, First Baptist member George Berlenge commended Vice Mayor Beverly Perkins and Commissioner Rhonda Eaton for their efforts with homeless individuals and others in need.
“She is invaluable to our community as she helps me to help the elderly with resources,” Berlenge said of Eaton. “Perkins is wonderful about taking care of the common people in her district.”