If you want to know what community looks like, you only had to stop by Chick-Fil-A at Davis Lake on October 10. There were dozens of families gathered to enjoy a vanilla iced coffee and to remember the life and death of a shared friend: Al Gorman. Al lived homeless in the Huntersville community for seven years. Tucked away a half- mile back in the woods of a local park, Al’s sleeping spot might have been isolated, but his life was not. Turns out through the years, he got to know numerous school children, families, and friends at the Chick-Fil-A, Wal-Mart, or another of his regular daytime stomping grounds. He was an avid reader and would engage people in conversations on any wide variety of topics – from current news events to electrical engineering.
One of those friends Al met along the way called Urban Ministry Center about a year and a half ago to alert us to his sleeping location. After a few failed attempts, our outreach team finally made it far enough back in the woods to find him in his camp. Needless to say, he was surprised to see us! After our two staff explained that we wanted to connect him to housing, he told us, “Well, I’ve been thinking it’s about time I work on some of this.” Our timing was serendipitous.
While Al was ready to work with us, he wasn’t ready to trust us our driving! Instead, the avid cyclist rode his bike 10 miles to the Urban Ministry Center and we began our work to connect him to the various benefits a 72-year old, homeless veteran is eligible for. Within a few months, Al was successful in connecting to income and soon found housing in the Belmont neighborhood. He rode his bike back to UMC, this time carrying a donation towards our mission.
He called occasionally to check in, and it had only been a few weeks since we had spoken when we learned the news that he was the collateral victim in an accident, which sent a car barreling into his bicycle. The outreach team alerted the UMC staff of his death and supported each other in our grief.
We made the mistake of believing that because we had met Al alone, that he had lived that way. As the news of his death spread, we received the lovely surprise of phone calls and letters from the many people who had gotten to know Al during his journey in homelessness. His life and death was beautifully documented by the Charlotte Observer. The various members of Al’s community started sharing their stories, piecing together a fuller story of the last eight years of his life. We learned of the ways people provided him care and community through the years, but also of the ways he gave that to the others. And per Al’s example of paying life forward, to date, over $1,000 has been given in Al’s memory.
Al died housed and loved. That is what we want for everyone we serve. But, while Al was well-known in Huntersville, because he didn’t seek out homeless services, he was not well-known to Urban Ministry Center until someone alerted us of his location. What haunts us is how many other Al’s are out there that UMC outreach doesn’t know about. Is there someone you always see on your way home from work or on your weekend grocery trip? Our outreach team would love to know. You can refer people to outreach services with this referral form.