This is a story about second chances, and several community members that have helped give people a second chance at life. A homeless young man (we’ll call him ‘Jack’) that Betty knew had a minor legal problem that he just never could get himself to take care of. He suffered from depression, and even though the legal matter weighed heavy on him, he just didn’t have the energy to face going to the County Courthouse to deal with it. Eventually his depression became so debilitating that he was placed on SSI disability.
Betty suggested to Jack that he clear up his legal issue by going to the Homeless Court held at St. Vincent de Paul’s dining facility, but he kept putting it off. Betty had learned about homeless court just a few months before, from a local woman named Suzie Van Kirk, who is a homeless court advocate. Many homeless people are uncomfortable appearing at the Courthouse. With Homeless Court, Judge Feeney goes to the people, at various locations, instead of making them come to him.
Unable to get beyond his depression, Jack missed his first homeless court appearance date. But Betty kept insisting that he really needed to clear his record. She went with him to the next homeless court session, and Judge Feeney decided to give Jack a second chance by clearing his record, and giving him 20 hours of community service. For people that can’t pay fines, this allows them to pay back their community and get a fresh start in life.
Once Jack had cleared his record, Betty got him a yard-work job. She hadn’t been willing to let him work for anyone until his legal record was cleared. Jack felt good about earning his own money, and he enjoyed the work. After this experience, he felt like he could earn his own way in life, rather than receiving SSI. He started getting day jobs and various yard work jobs, earning good money. He began feeling better about himself, which changed his expectations for his life. Jack decided to go back to school.
This year Jack graduated from HSU, and invited Betty to attend his graduation. While watching the graduation ceremonies, Betty was struck by the idea that everyone has a gift to reach out to someone, and change their life. Judge Feeney had given Jack (and many other homeless individuals) a second chance in life by helping him clear his record, so he could earn his own way in life. Jack had no family. The seed of hope had been buried deep inside of him, under layers of depression. Fortunately for Jack, the compassion of a local judge helped that seed within begin to sprout.
Betty is honored to have Judge Feeney hold homeless court at the Day Center. It takes a community of people, looking at life from different angles, to help lift people up. Everyone has a gift to reach out to someone, and change their life. Your gift may be very different than someone else’s, but you’ll never know the power of your gift to change a life if you don’t offer it. Everyone deserves a second chance. Don’t be afraid to reach out!