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A place to call home: Ohio drifter finds open hearts in Huron

Posted: Monday, Nov 9th, 2009

His shoes were in pieces and his bones were protesting.

It was not quite noon on another day more than 1,000 miles from home, but in mere hours the sun would be down below the horizon yet again and he would be facing another cold night in the unknown of the South Dakota prairie.

Still, William Galloway of Madison, Ohio, was determined to keep moving, to seek a new future away from a brother whose lifestyle was different from his own and from a bureaucracy that was snail-like at best.

“I slept on concrete, I slept on picnic tables, I slept in the snow,” the soft-spoken 47-year-old man said. “I slept in sopping wet rain, wet shoes, just kept walking, just trying to get somewhere.”

He got as far as the western edge of Huron when someone put her own foot down.

Brandy Ferguson DeJean took a stand that morning. If she had anything to say about it, this stranger she instantly took a liking to would get the help he so desperately needed.

The man she would soon call Bill would not have to walk another mile in tattered shoes or hope for the next safe ride to the next town.

DeJean, a mom of two young boys who can relate to folks needing a helping hand once in awhile, looked out the windows from where she works at West Park Travel Center a couple weeks ago and saw him sitting there.

She called to him: “Come in, and let’s talk.”

He had a simple story. He had no complaints. “I’m just traveling,” he said.

DeJean asked him what was really going on.

Galloway admitted he needed new shoes. She could see that. He said he had blisters on his feet. She could imagine that.

“He showed me his feet and I said, ‘It’s too cold, your feet hurt, you’re tired, I just can’t let you go any further,’” she insisted. “I just can’t do it.”

“I said, ‘I can’t go home and feel good about myself knowing that you’re going to be out there somewhere, where anything could happen,’” DeJean said.

She extended a hand of friendship, and he accepted it.

She knew of a place that could help, she told him.

But Galloway would not have to walk back downtown, to the Huron Housing & Redevelopment Authority offices in the Manor Apartments building he had ironically walked past that morning. DeJean picked up the phone and called Sheldon Schroeder, the fiancée of her best friend.

Schroeder was home when DeJean asked if he would come out to West Park and give someone a ride. On the drive, Galloway shared some of his story. “He seemed like a good person,” Schroeder said.

In Madison, Ohio, a small town in the northeastern corner of the state, Galloway was frustrated. He was on disability and had applied for housing, but was on a waiting list for three years. His relationship with his brother, with whom he lived, wasn’t the best.

Finally, he decided to take off and go somewhere with the hope of doing better. He walked. He caught rides. He was heading northwest, unsure where he would end up, but certain he didn’t want to live in a big city.

“I was just telling everybody I was going to Williston, North Dakota,” he said. “Other than that, I didn’t want to say anything else.”

In his first five days on the road, five women gave him rides. Three of them passed him by but turned around. As they talked, he learned he wasn’t the only one facing tough times.

Others would take him farther than their own destination so he could get to a place that was warm.

“A lot of people cared,” Galloway said. “It seems like as you get older you see the difference than when you’re younger and not paying attention as people help you out.”

Law enforcement officers took him the last leg into Huron.

With its homelessness grant signed in mid-October, Huron Housing can help people like Galloway, said Barb Cook, executive director. He is also getting assistance through Community Counseling Services and is looking for work.

He has permanent housing at the Manor Apartments and is getting food stamps. The next goal is to furnish his apartment.

“I’ve never had furniture in my life,” he said.

Galloway has experience as a long-haul trucker. He said he has a good driving record, a Department of Transportation physical card and has no problems passing a drug test.

But the pressures of deadlines on the road have been difficult for him. He said he does not want to be a failure. He would prefer to stay local – out for a day, come back the next.

The road is not a stranger for another reason. Newspapers have documented the three times he has walked across America. He rode a bike for nine years.

While Huron Housing has been able to put a roof over Galloway’s head, the grant funds it was awarded for the homeless can’t pay for other things – staples like personal hygiene items, diapers and gas.

Folks needing a helping hand can apply for funds to cover security deposits and catch up on rent and utilities.

Whether people realize it or not, homelessness is a problem in Huron, Cook said.

“Most of them are in very dire straits,” she said. “In a very short time, we’ve helped a number of people.”

As for the grant limitations, Cook is reaching out.

“The goal is to get the community to come forward and maybe give us some donations to help with some of these essential things that we can’t fund under the grant,” she said.

When DeJean met Galloway, he was carrying a small bag and a sleeping bag.

He has come a long way.

“It’s been overwhelming to me that I got this help because since I’ve been here it’s been where I have to tell myself, ‘Bill, you’ve got a roof now,’” he said.

“I could just tell he’s a really genuine person; he just fell on hard times,” DeJean said.

“I’ve had so many people in my life be able to help me,” she said. “I have two little boys and I know how tough it is, when you can’t find a job and job history sometimes isn’t the greatest and people look at that and don’t know the potential that you have.”

She recalled that first meeting, when she looked out the windows at West Park and saw a man sitting there, no doubt wondering how much farther he could go.

As it turned out, he didn’t need to take another step into the unknown.

“I could see it in his eyes that he’s a good man and he just needed somebody to believe in him enough to know that he has potential for lots of things,” DeJean said.

For the complete article see the 11-08-2009 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 11-08-2009 paper.

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