Hiding in the Shadows – A View of the Homeless at Orlando International Airport – By Gwenell Hall
Perhaps you’ve seen that old Tom Hanks movie The Terminal, where he had to live at the airport because he wasn’t a citizen. This is not that story. Unlike Tom Hanks, our homeless are hiding in the shadows of our community, finding refuge where they can.
Driving to work, I have the opportunity to reflect on how much I have seen and experienced with our homeless. I see Mike, one of “my guys,” holding up a sign in the middle on the road on Aloma Avenue. He approaches my van to say good morning and that he will see me soon. I smile.
Later on, Mike asks to speak with me about a situation at the airport. From time-to-time, Mike sleeps at Orlando International Airport (OIA). Yes, this is a thing. Mike and a couple of gentlemen sometimes volunteer to help me serve others at our Winter Park office at Redeemer Lutheran Church. At night, some of them take refuge at OIA until they are asked to move along.
Mike goes on to tell me about a new family he met at the airport. He wants me to meet a woman and her three children. He explains that our encounter will be both enlightening for me and meaningful for this family.
At our first meeting, a beautiful, 5’10” African-American woman walks into my office touting her 6-year-old daughter by the hand. The mother’s name is Jasheta, and she starts telling me her story with much expression and sincerity. I can tell she is very spiritual while sharing her love of God. Her cute daughter sits and listens politely while her mom shares their story.
Jasheta tells me that she holds a B.A. degree in Education and she has been a teacher. Her plan is to one day leave Orlando and relocate to New Jersey to reside with a relative while obtaining her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certification. She believes it’s time to settle in a place to call home. Jasheta says her children understand their mother’s journey. This is not the first time she and her children found shelter at the airport. They’ve also lived for a time at the airport in Miami.
I give the 6-year-old crayons and paper, and she draws a picture of her mother. The woman in the picture is larger than life, beautiful, colorful, and full of hope. The child gives her mom the picture who praises her for her creativity.
Meanwhile, Mike and I observe that the 6-year-old is friendly and not afraid to approach strangers who are around her. This is concerning to us both. Then, the child hears the laughter outside from children at the Journey School. She asks her mom “Can I go out and play with the children, momma?” “No baby, you can help me pack up the food Ms. Hall gave us.” The little girl quietly nods…she knows the routine and quickly helps her mother load up what I can give them.
I provide several bags of food, hygiene supplies, and a list of local agencies with other resources. After we say our goodbyes, Jasheta takes the child’s hand for the bus back to OIA where the older children are still staying. Any day they will gather their belongings and move on in the shadows of our community.
Will Jasheta’s encounter with the Christian Service Center make a difference for this mother and her children? The answer is always yes for me, because where there is love, there is always hope.
You can help struggling families like Jasheta’s by supporting the Christian Service Center or any of the homeless shelters in the Orlando area.