The Faces of Homelessness: Individuals tell of survival to overcome

They look like anyone else, they could be anyone else, but their lives took turns that led them along a different path.

Three Bullitt Countians survived homelessness, maintaining better lives with help from the Shepherd's Shelter Samaritan Program.

The Shepherd's Shelter, Inc., is a faith-based non-profit housing initiative with a mission to prevent and end homelessness in Bullitt County. The organization offers food and shelter along with supportive services and stabilization planning toward regaining self-sufficiency.

The three survivors thanked the community and shared their stories during a volunteer appreciation dinner hosted at Shepherdsville First Baptist Church.

Raised in West Virginia, Barry Maynard served in the US Navy from 1978-81 and the Reserves through 1984. Maynard suffers from anxiety and depression disorders. He spent a year at a VA hospital in West Virginia before being transferred to Louisville. When a cousin in the area died, Maynard said the VA would not release him to attend the funeral. He lied about his condition and signed himself out of the hospital. With nowhere else to go, Maynard stayed at places such as Helping Hands and lived for brief periods with other area relatives.

Maynard found work but lost his job following a rotator cuff injury. The situation led to a new issue with pain pill addiction. "That hurt me a lot, because they didn't wean me off," he said. "They cut me cold turkey." Lack of work also prevented Maynard from properly receiving anxiety and depression medications. Eventually Maynard moved from his sister's house and slept in a car. A former neighbor mentioned Shepherd's Shelter. He qualified for the Samaritan Program. "I was probably one of the first ones they put into an apartment," he said. "I was in a hotel for three weeks while an apartment was prepared."

The apartment needed considerable upgrades. Maynard did much of the work himself. Shepherd's Shelter donated furniture while his church, Brooks Baptist, provided clothing.

Maynard is currently filing for disability. He recently experienced another brief stay in the hospital, mentioning that Shepherd's Shelter case manager Sherry Brown visited constantly. He also returned to his own apartment.

"That really helped," he said. "With my illness you can imagine that they release you from the hospital and you don't have anywhere to go. That's a really big comfort to know that I had a place I can call home."

"Barry had a year of college and is a veteran," said Brown. "He's very capable but his illnesses and his depression really keep him down. We'll help him with his apartment while he's trying for his disability."

Shepherd's Shelter pays Maynard's rent. The apartment is under a one-year lease. Meanwhile, Brown works with Maynard to develop a long-term plan to sustain his own needs.

"Now I'll have no one else to blame but myself," he said.

Maynard volunteers with Shepherd's Shelter as often as possible, helping others who need similar assistance.

"I'd do anything for them, because they helped me unconditionally," he said. "I never had anyone genuinely care that much."

The future remains bright

At a relatively young age Ryan Humphreys was living a good life. He had a five-bedroom house with his fiancée of two years, working as a manager for a carpet cleaning business.

"We were really wealthy financially," he said.

Humphreys was then diagnosed with arteriovenous malformations (AVM), a disease impacting the central nervous system in various manners.

In Humphrey's case, the disease caused severe bleeding from the rectum. He learned the disease could continue to increase and never totally go away.

Humphreys traveled to Colorado visiting the only place at the time with a physician specializing in the disease. He paid $5,000 up front just for the visit.

Eventually Humphreys learned that his insurance would not cover AVM treatments. He attempted a process requiring surgery but a bad reaction led to tissue narcosis and bad bleeding episodes.

"They had to treat it like a shark bite," he said. "They did a number on me."

In the next four years Humphreys found himself hooked on pain pills and unable to work.

"My fiancée was there for me but she was basically worn out and left me," said Humphreys. "I was mad at the world. It was really hard for me to come to terms with that. Everything I had was taken away from me."

Humphreys stayed with various family and friends for over a year until they grew tired of dealing with him.

"I couldn't be alone, I was too scared," he recalled. "If I moved the wrong way I'd bleed to death. I know I put my parents through hell. I was angry and abusive, I lost my relationship with my sisters."

One day Humphreys "just walked in" to the Shepherd's Shelter offices. Brown determined that he qualified for the Samaritan program.

Humphreys was first placed into a hotel and then his own apartment. He attended drug rehab, grateful that Brown constantly visited to help him through the process.

"I couldn't believe somebody cared that much for me and didn't even know me," he said. "I'm still grateful."

Humphreys now has a caretaker assisting him daily. He is planning a return to school and hopes to become a counselor.

"Ryan wants out of his past lifestyle and he's making a new start," said Brown. "We discussed his goals and things started clicking for him."

He also volunteers for Shepherd's Shelter whenever possible.

"I'll do anything they say, and I'm not wasting any time anymore," Humphreys said. "They did so much for me, it wouldn't be right to not help them out. I don't see why anybody wouldn't help them, they do too much."

A true survivor

Medical reasons were Karen Miller's downfall.

Coming from a family with a history of genetic cancer, Miller battled breast cancer. Two of her sisters died from the disease and her adult daughter also suffers with it.

As Miller's cancer spread she learned her insurance company canceled her coverage. Eventually delinquent medical bills led to the loss of life savings and home.

Miller was living in a power shack at a mobile home community when a friend mentioned Shepherd's Shelter. She was approved for the Samaritan Program, which included supplied trips to doctors' offices.

"If it wasn't for the Samaritan Program I'd still be on the street battling this disease," she said. "They won't give you chemo if you're homeless, and you can't get prescriptions. My actual life depends on these people right there."

"We were able to get her into housing, then got her what she needed and re-started her chemo," said Brown. "(Miller) has a smile on her face every time she comes to the office."

Miller recently celebrated two years as a cancer survivor on her 50th birthday. Unfortunately, five days later she was told that more cancer had spread and she required immediate surgery.

Brown said Miller was originally scheduled for surgery the day of the dinner, but postponed it to speak and thank everyone who helped her.

"It was very important that I get up and tell people the story," she said. "Especially the students that donated the canned goods. I wanted them to see who they were helping."

Like many clients and former clients, Miller has volunteered at Shepherd's Shelter since they helped her find an apartment.

"I answer phones and collect what I can," she said. "We all volunteer our time. We don't want to get something for nothing. But we can only help so many clients due to lack of funds. That's where the donations need to come in."