Willow's Place: Serving help and hope to the homeless of Kent

Angus Wilson had worked his way up in the trucking world. He drove for 20 years, and was pulling in $80,000 a year as a driver trainer. But the wheels, quite literally, came off for Wilson, due to a lapse in judgement. He was arrested for drunken driving. “One night turned my life upside down,” Wilson said. He lost his job. Eventually, he lost nearly every material possession he had. Already going through a divorce at the time of his DUI, he lost his wife and two children, too. One Thursday in December, a now-homeless Wilson was queuing up for dinner and a respite from the winter cold. Along with his friend Joey Smith, also homeless, Wilson was getting a hot meal from a group of kindly volunteers in the basement of Kent Unity Church.

Angus Wilson

Angus Wilson

Angus Wilson had worked his way up in the trucking world.

He drove for 20 years, and was pulling in $80,000 a year as a driver trainer.

But the wheels, quite literally, came off for Wilson, due to a lapse in judgement.

He was arrested for drunken driving.

“One night turned my life upside down,” Wilson said.

He lost his job. Eventually, he lost nearly every material possession he had.

Already going through a divorce at the time of his DUI, he lost his wife and two children, too.

One Thursday in December, a now-homeless Wilson was queuing up for dinner and a respite from the winter cold. Along with his friend Joey Smith, also homeless, Wilson was getting a hot meal from a group of kindly volunteers in the basement of Kent Unity Church. Bundled up in a heavy coat, Wilson didn’t exude bitterness about his plight so much as hope for a better future.

“I just want to get back to a place where I can take a shower every day,” he said, noting he sleeps where he can, in spite of the bitter cold.

“If I can get back on my feet monetarily, I’m gonna give back. Give back with both these hands,” Wilson added, eyes filling with tears, as the other tables in the basement filled with diners, as homeless as he is.

For people like Wilson, the Thursday-night dinners at the church, especially in the winter weather, are a godsend.

It’s a place to not only fill the stomach, but a shelter to restore the soul.

In the time he was there, Wilson had dinner, a chance to catch up with Joey, and some time to interact, one-on-one, with volunteers serving the meal and just hanging out to talk. In one corner, a volunteer had a microphone that she put to use, belting out holiday tunes.

That’s the kind of environment that organizers of Willow’s Place – the organization providing the meals and the fellowship – are striving to give the local homeless.

“It’s becoming a real community,” said Kent businesswoman Sally Goodgion, who with fellow resident Lois Deusen, helped reorganize what previously were Thursday-night, outdoor feeds into something warm and under a roof.

Inspired by the book “Breakfast at Sal’s,” about Bremerton homeless man Richard LeMieux and his dog, Willow, Goodgion and Deusen named their new, under-a-roof venture Willow’s Place.

“We started three months ago, and the first night we had 40 people,” said Goodgion. “Now it’s 60 to 80 people.”

Goodgion described their diners as not only the homeless, but people couch-surfing (drifting from one friend’s place to another) or others who are just barely making it.

The stories Goodgion hears are, like Wilson’s, heartbreaking.

“Last week we had two teenagers, and one of them said his family made him leave because he didn’t have a job,” she said.

There are veterans, too, and sometimes families. There are women as well as men, and some of them have to walk a long way to get to the church. But they do it.

“She walks almost a mile and a half, rain or shine,” said volunteer Dee Doxsee, pointing out one woman, seated at a table, who has been a regular to the meals. The woman, Doxsee added, has to walk along a lonely stretch of highway to get to Kent, so she’ll wear a fluorescent vest for added safety.

Wilson’s friend Joey Smith has been homeless for years, and is a regular to Willow’s Place. He’s seen the good and the bad of living a life without a home.

The good? Helping friends in need.

“You’d be surprised how much the homeless help the homeless,” Joey said, seated at the same table as Wilson. “We feed each other, we share our clothes.”

The bad? The sheer brutality he’s experienced.

In September, a group of youths beat Joey with a baseball bat. The beating required many stitches, leaving Joey with a vivid scar on his head.

“I wasn’t lookin’ and they came from the sides,” Joey said, of the attack that landed him in a hospital.

In spite of the beating, the Kent man said he’s going to remain homeless. Cold nights are endured with multiple sleeping bags. And, he quips, he likes the outdoors. And he has pets: “I have a raccoon, a possum and a cat.”

“I keep going because I keep breathing,” he added.

Meanwhile, Linae Lloyd, the volunteer who was singing holiday tunes that night, was happy to speak about why she wanted to be there.

“It’s not a church thing; it’s a love-people thing,” said Lloyd, a pastor herself from a Puyallup-area church.

“God’s heart is closer to the homeless,” she added.

Lloyd, who learned about Willow’s Place after meeting Goodgion when both were getting their hair done, said she was planning to bring her congregation to assist.

“We want to make sure they stay warm,” Lloyd said, of the food, and the warm clothing that volunteers also give out during the dinners.

One person for whom the Thursday dinner was an eye opener was exchange student Binh Vo, from Indonesia. He was among a small squad of teens that night who were serving up dinner, under the watchful eye of organizers.

This was a side of America that Vo hadn’t seen before.

“I (thought) almost all American families are very rich,” Vo said, as he prepared to take rolls out of the church oven.

“I found out there are people who are poor.”


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