Vero News

Homeless Family Center speaker puts a face on homelessness

VERO BEACH — Richard LeMieux is living proof that homelessness can occur in the blink of an eye; even to affluent individuals who may think themselves immune.  Sadly, as the people who work and volunteer at shelters such as the Homeless Family Center (HFC) will attest, the reality is that it happens every day.

LeMieux, author of the book Breakfast at Sally’s – One Man’s Inspirational Journey, was the guest speaker at the Homeless Family Center’s Spring Luncheon Wednesday at Bent Pine Country Club.  From riches to rags to redemption, LeMieux is a shining example of the expression, “you can’t keep a good man down.” Pat Dunsmore and Rosemary Hartmann co-chaired the event and, as a result of funding from sponsors Debbie Macomber, Debbie and Champ Sheridan, ABC Printing Company and Laura Larsen of Florida Bloomers, all proceeds from luncheon ticket sales and book sales that afternoon would benefit the HFC.

In his introduction, Lorne Coyle, HFC Executive Director, noted that while the cost to house one person for one day at the shelter is $31, one night at the county jail costs twice that amount.

“We offer a preemptive “get back on your feet” program at the Homeless Family Center,” said Coyle, prior to presenting LeMieux.

As a successful sports writer, LeMieux said it was his job to make the pro-athletes he met into bigger heroes.

“I wanted what the heroes had,” said LeMieux.

To accomplish that, he accepted a job as Regional Manager in Seattle for a firm that produced medical directories, and proceeded to live a prosperous life filled with world travel, multiple cars and boats, a waterfront home and a lavish lifestyle.

“I had all the toys I thought a 50-year-old man should have.  I had my dream; the one I deserved; the one I earned.”

His life started to crumble as computerization began to make printed directories obsolete, and he eventually lost it all; job, home, wife and friends.  All that remained was a minivan and his only steadfast companion, Willow the Wonder Dog.

“Like many who land at shelters, I wanted to disappear,” said LeMieux.  “When I looked in the mirror, I saw this worthless man; this homeless man.”

Frightened and alone, he had every intention of jumping off a bridge to end his life, and had left Willow, along with food, water and a note, in his van.

“I had my own Field of Dreams moment,” explained LeMieux. ‘Impossible as it was, since it was too far away, I could hear my dog barking and scratching at the windows as if to say, “I need you.””

So, instead of jumping, he visited a Salvation Army soup kitchen for his first “Breakfast at Sally’s.

“I got a plateful of food and a plateful of hope,” said LeMieux.  “I realized I had found the real heroes I had been looking for all my life.”

LeMieux has since established a Willow Charitable Foundation, as well as shelters in Maine, Washington and New York, in Willow’s memory.

“This is one you need to have on your shelf,” said Suzanne Bolinger, cradling an armful of books to give as gifts.  “Just look what he’s accomplished.”

“It’s not often that we can put a face to the problem,” added Maya Peterson.  “You often hear about homelessness, but can’t identify with it.  It makes it very real when you hear someone speak about feeling so vulnerable, useless and unwanted.”

“Just because you don’t have a home, doesn’t mean you don’t have dignity,” agreed Bolinger. {igallery 379}

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