Prior to homelessness, he is now an ambassador on Orlando streets

At the edge of the Lake Eola Park, David Williams stands up like his soldier. It has gray wings, a thick black-tape with its radio and first aid equipment, and a gray shirt with a wide fluorescent yellow wing across the front – a kind of beacon with the lost, lost green.

One of a new bar "ambassadors," Williams, 58, is walking on the downtown area that gives instructions, acting as a safety escort, reporting suspicious behavior and notifying the officials in the Beautiful City on anything, well, was … not.

It also gives guidance to the homeless of the city – a material that he also knows.

"Of all 17 of the resource officers, the only person in their shoes," he says, looking at a man who was expecting to wear a wall. "I was homeless for 14 years. I used all the resources there."

On a recent week's day, he travels to Club Rosalind, a 1916 landmark on the shore of Loch Eola, where he knows that the elderly ladies who play a bridge will look for him to help them go on a busy Rosalind Avenue.

"Ha! God for you! Are you crossing the street today?" He asks three of the women. They laugh with them, and one spreads his hand as a guide.

"It's very grateful," said Pat Williams, a retired nurse from Georgia, later. "He will stop the traffic for us. He really takes his job. … I'll be 84 next month, and I said I'd like to be young again."

The image of Williams is now – authoritative, confident, dressed dressed in their uniforms – in contrast to his previous life.

Although Williams was eight of the Oak Ridge University and officially served in the Army, taking a sergeant rank, after his military life. He worked in warehouses, drove trucks and worked in construction, but did not stay in a job. In one year he had as many as 22 employers.

Being worse and physically becoming ill, with bipolar disorders and lupus progressing, has gradually retreated. And for nine years of age he spent homelessness, he remained almost exclusively within a 3 acre wood scene from John Young Parkway, avoiding all human contacts.

One loved one who gave him a "Creeper."

On the night, Creeper dropped out of the shadows and went around the Williams camp – a series of Williams land used to cover himself in a day so he could sleep. The darkness also relieved the scenes that were created to be frightened. The mania drove him unwillingly; the depression caused bullying to be hidden.

He left the lupus with rashes and then skin. Although the blotches are slightly visible now, at the time he thought he was disinfected.

"No one wants to be around me," he said.

In the dark, he would look for food, depending on some retreating restaurant workers in the neighborhood. Then patrol out his outline. And he shared his resolutions with Creeper.

But one night, Creeper stopped coming.

"I knew he had gone. I knew it was probably dead," Williams said.

And he knew that if he stayed in the woods, he could also die dead.

Demanded the idea of ​​re-entering society.

In 2015, after compassion Corner, coffee and preaching after the center center center for homeless people, he listened to a priest talking about a meeting when they were going to a homeless veterans. When the priest left him, Williams continued on.

I starred at the Presbyterian First Church of Orlando, Andrae Bailey, a CEO of the Central Florida Central Home Commission, spoke to 300 people, organizing the effort to identify each homeless ancestor and get them into housing. The meeting was to announce rally support and training; homeless people were unsuccessful to sign on the spot.

Williams sat in the back, confused, until Bailey finished speaking. Then he walked up the aisle.

"Excuse me, sir. My name is David Williams and is a veteran home for me. I'm homeless for 14 years," he said.

Bailey already spent six years working on homelessness. He gave independent speeches, commissioned studies and excessive politicians and corporate CEOs to address the problem. But in the days and weeks and subsequent months, it would come to understand the challenges of their homelessness in a way that was never before. He gave Williams a telephone number and a housing commitment to him.

"You're my problem now," he said. "Good way."

Initially, Bailey helped set up Ms. in a local motel when he looked at a housing voucher through the Veterans Department Affairs. Williams then got a flat and Bailey gave him a post for a few months as a veterans outreach worker.

But Williams's parents were dead, and he was out of his three brothers. Her sister did what she could, but he lived from home. Without a support network, and long after the society, he was struggling to handle money, make friends and keep appointments. Within a year, he stopped taking his remedies and was eliminated from his apartment.

"Yes, they paid me good attention, including Mr Bailey and all of them," says Williams. "But at the end of the day, when they went home and the sun went down, I do not know that someone was asked. I had no connection. The only time you knew is part of I had nothing when I left the house and I came to the center. "

Bailey realized that he had an understanding of the lack of academic homelessness.

"I think the VA has a lot of credit both nationally and locally for housing veterans," he says. "But what was clear to me after a season of time was that David just needed a program; people around it were necessary are going to support the way they support their family – and not only for a month or two. "

In fact, he took three years to help Williams create a stable life. In last June, back in VA and disabled housing, he married a 58 year old restaurant worker who met during his time in the woods.

And three months later, when he heard that the city was looking for ambassadors, he got to call.

"You could not have a better ambassador," says Dick Batchelor, well-connected consultants of Orlando and a former legislator who became part of the Williams support network. "He knows what he is talking about."

At $ 12.50 per hour and only three days a week, money must be done on the work, says Williams. After all, the VA covers its rent and medical needs.

"I did not accept this job if it was not helpful to help people. I would not even be here," he says.

As he speaks, he sees a man with a well backpack. The place where Williams himself was used to sit, listening to the rhythm of the falling water.

Williams introduces, smiles, and sits next to the man. "Is it good if I talked to you for a moment?" He says.

Calls with the man himself "Chino." He is homeless and is waiting for a Social Security card so that he can get the identification you need for a job. Williams tells him how the process can accelerate and where possible interim. Both talk about 15 minutes, and Williams gives him a business card.

"Thank you," says Chino. "Too many people are not offering help. I like it."

At the end of his shift, Williams will take the bus to East East County, then rider on his bike 3 miles to the apartment that he spends with his wife.

One night recently, as it survived, raccoons were darted out of the woods, then resting at the side of the road. Williams could not help but think of Creeper.

He stopped for a moment, and the raccoon ran back in the dark.

Williams asked after him. "Stay safe, a little friend," he said.

ksantich@orlandosentinel.com, 407-420-5503, @ katesantich. Think about supporting local journalism by buying a digital donation to the Orlando Sentinel.

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