Anderson Cooper and the 60 Minutes team brought us moving stories of several of Nashville's homeless residents, many of whom are now housed. We wanted to provide an update on a few of them.
Robert McMurtry, who 60 Minutes showed moving into housing and jogging in the park, remains stably housed today and recently spoke at a community-wide forum on homelessness. Frank Clements, whose struggles with alcoholism were depicted in painful detail on camera, has moved to a new apartment that is a better fit for his needs. Despite continuing to struggle with his addiction, he remains in housing and has not been forced to return to the streets, where he has already spent so many years.
One woman you may not remember from the televised segment is Diane "Mama Bear" Garton. Garton was pictured only briefly on camera, but has played a critical role in Nashville's homeless community for several years. Since a 2010 flood devastated a local trailer park, she has served as the de facto matriarch of a group of homeless people surviving among the ruins.
Garton was surveyed during Nashville's registry week effort, and today, she is stably housed in her own modest apartment.
Judy Tackett of the local Campaign team in Nashville reports on her situation:
When walking into Diane “Mama Bear” Garton’s home, nothing gives away that the lady of the house was homeless just three short months ago. Thanks to How’s Nashville, the local team leading the 100,000 Homes Campaign on the ground, she has since received a Section 8 housing voucher, been linked to disability income, and received assistance with move-in costs and furniture.
Garton couldn’t be more grateful.
Each month, she pays $138 toward her own rent, which has given her an important financial stake in her own housing. She has also paid great attention to making her apartment a comfortable home for herself and her dog Sunshine.
“I pray every day and thank God.," Garton says. "Of all the things I’ve been through all my life – having things and losing them – the Lord has given me another chance to have something, and I’m loving it.”
Garton was homeless for more than 2 years before she finally moved into her own apartment with help from the How’s Nashville campaign. At some point during that time, she lived in a large camp where she picked up her nickname “Mama Bear.” It was given to her by a younger woman who observed that people gathered around Garton, who was always willing to lend a helping held to the people around her.
“Homelessness is not a disease,” says Garton, who is 54. “If people really want to help, they need to empower others.”
Garton says that’s what people from the How’s Nashville team, in particular Will Connelly, director of the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission, and Ingrid McIntyre, executive director of Open Table Nashville, Inc., both of whom appeared on camera, have done for her.
“There is nothing that feels better than having something for yourself that you are responsible for,” Garton says.
Congratulations Nashville, and welcome home, Robert, Frank and Mama Bear!
(Photo: Diane "Mama Bear" Garton and her dog, Sunshine)