Local News

Homeless in Highlands

SEBRING - Temperatures dropped into the 40s between Thursday night and Friday morning, but Bryan Allen still didn't know what was coming, that the Monday night forecast for Sebring is 39 degrees.
A massive winter storm had dumped 20 inches of snow on parts of New England. Several flights to and from Reagan National Airport in the Washington-Northern Virginia area were cancelled. That's where Allen is from.
Allen, who has been homeless for more than a year, sat in the back row at the Labor Finders office on Friday. A half-dozen other men also occupied chairs, waiting, but jobs are few and several days between, and they usually last just one day.
"I need to get a job," Allen said. "I'm not asking for a handout." He worked at Georgia Pacific in Lake Placid until the plant closed.
He goes to the library and applies online, but most forms require a phone number. If he appears in person, he looks like - well, like someone who doesn't sleep indoors. And he can only travel so far on his bike.
Allen eats at the New Testament Mission on Lemon Avenue. Although he is small and slender, food isn't the problem.
It's shelter. Asked where he sleeps, Allen is understandably vague. "Some people stay in the woods. I don't like that too much."
There are dangers he won't explain, but he prefers the downtown benches. "The police don't bother you too much," he said.
Did he call home on Christmas?
"No. I don't have a cell phone."
Why couldn't he use a pay phone?
First, they're few and far between these days. Worse, when he calls a cell phone - and that's the only number some relatives have - there's just a recorded message: "This phone doesn't receive collect calls."
So what does he do when the temperatures drop?
He bundles up in a tent. "And I wear more clothes."
Kristian Dudley is more fortunate, and it's because of five people who care about him.
Dudley was camping in the woods near Southgate Shopping Center when Tena and Danielle Jordon found him in a dumpster behind Publix, scavenging for Christmas decorations.
Because Tena has children about Dudley's age, she began to think of him as a son, so she was shocked when she found an ambulance while she was visiting the camp one day. Someone was in the back.
"I asked, 'Is that one of my guys?' And they said, it's somebody from Alaska."
She and her husband, Matthew, left. "But I asked her, 'You want to go back, don't you?' She said, 'Yes.'"
It was Dudley, who was also from Vermont. He had signed on with a carnival that was wintering in Ocala, where he was laid off before Halloween. He had walked 130 miles to reach a friend in Highlands County, but only stayed with her for a week before issues arose.
At the camp, Tena and Matthew and others had brought a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving, even a Christmas tree. Their daughter, Danielle Jordon, a veteran of the Middle East campaigns, collected and dropped off clothing, toothpaste, tents, towels, washcloths, clean clothing, kitchenware, deodorant, lotion, soap. One room of her house is so full, she's looking for storage space.
Dudley was taking Benadryl for allergies but didn't share with a camp mate, so that's why he was beaten brutally enough that an ambulance was necessary.
"They gave me a choice," Dudley said. "Detox or the hospital."
"There is a pecking order at that camp," Matthew Jordon said. The strongest require others to panhandle, and that's why homeless camps are littered with beer and liquor containers.
Tena Jordon was allowed to ride with Dudley to the hospital, and there she stayed while he recovered.
But she wasn't what he expected. "I wouldn't allow him to smoke," Tena Jordon said. When he insisted, she took a cigarette out of his hand. When he pulled a pack out of his pocket, she grabbed that. "I said, 'Now, if you can find anything to smoke, you can.' He pulled a cigar out of his shirt pocket."
She seized that too. And she allowed no drinking.
The Jordons are among 26 members of the American Legion Riders motorcycle association: Matthew is Bulldog, Danielle is Barbie. Tena is Rogue because like the X-Men character, she's had a silver widow's peak of hair since she was young.
Dudley needed a safer place to stay, and their friends have a 80-acre farm in Hardee County. After they conducted their own background investigation - Dudley called it an intense intervention - that's where he went to live.
And work. Larry - who didn't want to use his last name for this story - had Dudley moving hay and herding cows.
That was 12 days ago, and Dudley said he detoxed by sweating all the poisons out of his system.
But on Christmas, he called his family.
"They made me feel welcome," Dudley said.
Now, the group of five are hoping to help the Highlands County Coalition for the Homeless conduct a census of homeless men, women and children who are living in Highlands County. In fact, they're hoping Dudley can be one of the interviewers.
That count is usually scheduled in January. Last year, 150 were counted, but the executive directed expected more than 1,000 may actually be homeless.
Donors and homeless people who need services may call Tena Jordon at 863-214-3851, or Danielle Jordon at 214-6281.
Call the Coalition in Avon Park at 452-1086.