Sunday, March 15, 2009

Who are our Neighbors?

[Here’s a sneak preview of one entry in a new section about our neighbors—the people who live in the housing we’ve built--that soon will appear on the website. Thanks go to Alisa who helped Gary tell his story, and Edd for doing the photography]

Name: James, but usually goes by his middle name Gary.

Hometown: Gary is from New Orleans, but lived for years in Austin with his wife until her death. He was in Mississippi for 2 years before moving back to Dallas about 8 months ago.

Job experience: Gary was a chef for Carnival Cruise lines.

Gary’s Story: Gary worked as a chef for Carnival cruise lines for many years, but took early retirement to help care for his wife who became very ill and needed a double transplant (lung and heart). Gary and his wife spent much of their life savings on her medical care.
Soon after Gary’s wife’s death, Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast and Gary felt compelled to go and help. He worked with others to start a mobile kitchen in Pass Christina, Mississippi where people could get a hot meal. Logistically, there was little volunteers or residents could do without a source of food so the mobile kitchen was the impetus for restoring the area. Even FEMA came to Gary’s group to find people who needed help. Gary intended to be there for a few weeks or possibly a few months. He was there for 2 years.

While in Pass Christian, Gary started experiencing pain which he thought he was from kidney stones so he made a trip to Dallas to visit a doctor. The doctor discovered that Gary had liver cancer which was believed to be caused by exposure to toxins during his stint in Pass Christian, though Gary says if he could go back he would not have changed a thing.
After his cancer diagnosis, Gary stayed in the Dallas area for his treatment which to date has consisted of 3 surgeries and a special kind of chemo regimen. He rented a room from some friends but the location was inconvenient to the hospital where he was being treated and the cost was prohibitive. Since Gary’s only income was Social Security Disability, his growing prescription costs left him with no more than $15 a week for food. He was having trouble stretching his dollars, even with his culinary experience. For the first time in his life, Gary began to face the fact the he was going to be homeless.

Gary researched different support options, but everything he found had a one or two year waiting list, including government sponsored Section 8 housing. Then Gary saw an article in the paper about CityWalk@Akard and called Central Dallas CDC. We were able to place him in a property within a month and Gary is now on the call back list for CityWalk.
Gary is so thankful for the opportunity he has received and says that his favorite part of his new place is that it really feels like home and he was surprised how clean and up to date the building is. Gary is really looking forward to the opening of CityWalk@Akard where he will be able to take public transportation to the hospital, since he estimates he only has another month or so of driving in him. We wish Gary the best of luck in a painless and effective treatment!

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