Although she had lived in Dallas most of her life and had a prosperous and successful career here, probably only two people saw Janet’s Obituary in the paper that Sunday– her brother and father who wrote it.
We first met Janet on a cold November morning in 2017 on Search and Rescue. Her figure in a wheelchair was just a mass of layered coats topped by a reversed baseball cap. Because of a spinal condition, that forced her to hunch over, her face was permanently turned toward the ground.
When we bent down to speak to her, an impish smile with clear blue eyes looked up at us. When we asked her for her name, Janet’s right hand clutched at her throat to modulate the words that came out of the tube in her trachea.
She pointed around to the tall buildings downtown and talked proudly about the important jobs she had in them once. It was the beginning of a relationship that would develop over many visits and many months and from which over time her full story would unfold.
As a little girl, she was adopted by what she called “a good loving Christian family” and she loved to repeat the story of how later she was allowed to personally “pick out” her little brother from the same orphanage.
The image that emerged from the raspy voice of this huddled figure was of a young girl who was perpetually in motion, a bit of a firebrand and “quite a handful” for her adoptive parents. She would regale us with how she fell in love with riding horses and became a championship swimmer. But the sight she set her heart on very early was to become a ballet dancer, a dream that was suddenly destroyed when she broke her leg in an accident at the age of 12.
After some stormy teenage years, against her parent’s wishes, she married young and soon had a child who perished in a car accident at the age of two. When Janet got to that part of her story, her voice dimmed so that we had to lean forward to hear the rest. “I was holding her in my arms like this when she died,” she whispered, looking down at her open hands and empty lap. She lost a second child years later.
After a professional career in Dallas, hard times and bad decisions left her homeless on the streets where she survived eight years of throat cancer, going back and forth between the streets and radiation treatments. She was proud of that.
By then, burdened with the speaking and eating limitations of a tracheotomy and the limited mobility of the wheelchair she was confined to, Janet spent most of the next ten years of her life surviving unnoticed behind buildings and in the alleys of the plush Design District of downtown Dallas. That’s when OurCalling found her.
Through our staff and volunteers, we took her under our wing, assisting her through medical care, efforts to get her off the street and a tearful reunion with her brother and father, whom she had not seen in a decade.
Then, only two days away from being eligible for permanent housing, Janet was found unresponsive in her wheelchair outside of a downtown DART station. She was pronounced dead at the hospital. Only the information on an expired prescription bottle found in her pocket allowed her to be identified.
When most people say that someone is “homeless”, they mean a person who doesn’t have a roof over their heads. But to us at OurCalling, a “home” is simply where there is a safety, refuge, community, warmth, and Christ. And we believe that all of that can be found in relationships.
Like Janet, not everyone on the streets can immediately be put into a shelter or an apartment, but everyone can be offered a “home”–a safe and supportive place– in a relationship with Christ and His people. It was through our staff and you, our volunteers and donors, that Janet finally found such a place.