Homeless for a week
By BRENDA HARRISON Editor of The News Journal Florence, S.C.
A single phone call brought about a life-changing experience for two individuals who spent a week living on the streets of Augusta, Ga.
The plan developed after Byon McCullough, also known as “Know Cash,” made a call to Bryan Braddock. Braddock is the executive director of the House of Hope of the Pee Dee and also chairs the City’s No One Unsheltered program. Byon had been reading about the homeless initiatives in Florence.
“I was reaching out to someone who’s as passionate as I am about homelessness. I will do anything to bring awareness to this problem,” Byon said.
Byon knows from past experience what it’s like to be on the streets. He has served time in prison for dealing drugs, but has changed his life. He currently resides with his mother, but technically he’s homeless.
Normally, Bryan would have referred Byon’s call to Brock Spivey, director of the Courtney McGinnis Graham Community Center. Instead, he invited Byon to meet him for breakfast. The two of them built up a rapport and a friendship began. Byon’s new friend drove him to Atlanta to visit his daughter and meet his new grandchild.
As executive director of the House of Hope, Bryan’s job is focused mostly on administration and fund-raising. He had been feeling he needed insight about what it is really like being homeless and living on the streets. Inspired by the TV show “Undercover Boss,” he wanted to go undercover as a homeless person. But, he knew he needed guidance and protection with someone who “knew the ropes.”
Although Byon had no desire to get back on the streets, he agreed to do so with his new friend. They began developing a plan.
“The goal was to get a new perspective on homelessness and communicate what we learned to the general public,” Bryan said. “Also I wanted to help Byon. In good conscience I didn’t want to accept Byon’s help and support, without bringing resources to help him.”
A speaker and singer, Byon is verified with YouTube and has over 100,000 followers. His talents have been exploited in the past, Bryan noted, explaining that he needs a good agent and manager to help him become self-sufficient. He has established a GoFundMe page to assist him with his goals.
Bryan also wanted to have their experience documented in some way and Tucker Mitchell suggested filmmaker/actor Christian Burnetti, who had done some filming here. Burnetti agreed to take a film crew to document this experiment.
The plan was to find a city where no one would recognize them and to hit the streets for a week with no money and just the clothes on their backs. Bryan prepared by growing an untrimmed beard. They set benchmarks, such as sleeping on the streets, finding a homeless shelter, finding a soup kitchen, and attending a church service.
On March 12 – a bitter cold and rainy Monday – they were dropped off near the interstate in Augusta, Ga. It was around noon as they began walking toward town, a six mile trek. Bryan was surprised that no one offered assistance, not even a poncho or umbrella. By the time they reached downtown Augusta, they were wet and freezing.
“We didn’t have to get into character,” Bryan noted. “We were homeless.”
In an alley they found a tarp and some metal to make a lean-to to stay out of the rain. The temperature dropped to 30 degrees and a kind man offered them shelter in an abandoned warehouse. There they found old army cots and a dusty old blanket. Protected from the rain, they were still very cold.
At the end of that day only two people had acknowledged them. One spoke to them and one laughed at them. They had no food or water on day one.
Tuesday was dry, but still cold. They started out looking for food and through help from other homeless people were directed to a food bank for lunch. They were served baked chicken, rice and a salad. Byon, a vegan, swapped his chicken and rice for Bryan’s salad. This was their only meal that day.
They heard that singer Chris Daughtry was performing that night, so Byon spent the day practicing one of Daughtry’s songs, “Life After You,” which he sang outside the concert arena for donations. He collected $16, along with a front row seat to the concert. They slept in the warehouse again that night.
On Wednesday they went back to the food bank and were served spaghetti and salad. Again they swapped their food.
The pair encountered a homeless man who had three bars of soap and offered a bar to each of them. Byon took the soap, but Bryan declined, not wanting to inconvenience the man. It was a mistake. By declining the soap he denied this man the opportunity to bless him.
They learned there was a rescue mission just two blocks away. Thankfully, someone told them they needed an emergency shelter clearance from the police in order to stay at this mission. They got the clearance and checked into the shelter where they were able to take a shower. It felt so good, they said.
At the shelter they ran into the homeless man who had offered to share his soap. Byon returned the favor by giving the man the brand new backpack given to him at the mission. Several times during the week they encountered this man. He always spoke to Byon, but ignored Bryan. Byon believes the man was offended because Bryan did not take the soap, and was probably skeptical of why Bryan was there.
After breakfast and a chapel message, Bryan and Byon checked out feeling full and refreshed. The weather was better, so they began scouting for a shelter for the night. They found an abandoned metal canopy with construction materials underneath and began preparing a nesting place and searching for firewood.
A homeless person told them about the Mead House where they could get a snack and bottled water. They found it and were thankful for the blessing. The rules allow snacks twice a week, but since this was their first time, they were invited to come back on Friday and Monday.
They slept that night under the metal canopy, their new-found shelter.
On Friday they walked around town. They were preparing for a second night in their makeshift home under the canopy, but at 5:45 p.m. a sheriff’s deputy evicted them for trespassing. It was too late to check in the homeless shelter, so they headed back to the empty warehouse where they bedded down for the night.
On Saturday morning, they headed to the bridge church which they heard about from the homeless. Literally a church under a bridge, the service was led by Pastor Richard Gardner.
He preached on “Our Father,” and it was a wonderful message.
Byon mentioned that Bryan had lost his mother on March 2 and Pastor Gardner shared that date was the anniversary of when he lost his mother. Then he had prayer with Bryan.
There were about 100 people in attendance. All were fed, offered clothes, given a food package and a loaf of bread.
An offering was taken during the worship service and Bryan was amazed that those who had so little gave unselfishly.
After lunch they walked the two or three miles back to the warehouse. That night Byon sang a song for a manager at Wendy’s in return for a meal for both of them. Before retiring, Bryan took some cash out of an ATM to give out to those up and down the strip.
“My heart was so pricked,” he said.
Again, they slept in the warehouse.
Sunday morning they attended the nearby Redemption Church where they had charged their phones at an outside outlet. They were received well and welcomed at the church. The people were engaging and nice, but didn’t make a big deal about their presence. Bryan and Byon were grateful for that.
We were not there to test the congregation, Bryan noted, but to see how it felt going into a church as a homeless person.
“I was sensitive that I smelled and stayed to myself, sitting close to the door,” he noted.
After church, they were picked up and driven back home.
The whole time in Augusta they were confined to about a four-mile radius, Bryan noted, explaining walking everywhere took most of their time and was tiring.
The homeless people were engaging and welcomed them. As for the regular people, they didn’t know we existed, Bryan said.
One thing he noticed and experienced is that homeless people look out for each other, especially women with children, the elderly and disabled. Whenever in line, if an elderly person or a woman with children walked up, they were immediately ushered to the front of the line. They ranked first.
Bryan and Byon shared their journey daily on Facebook and YouTube and the response has been great. Byon’s YouTube address is www.youtube.com/nocash843.
“God’s leading and moving from what I have seen,” Bryan said.
Many people are asking what they can do.
Following are five take-a-ways from Bryan and Byon.
1. Meet the homeless people wherever they are and whatever mental state they are in.
2. Ask them what they need.
3. Take the soap. Accepting their gift opens them for a blessing.
4. Ask yourself why? Why is this person homeless? There’s a reason.
5. Get in the game.
“We as a society go to church where we worship Jesus, a homeless person. We are taught to love our neighbor, take care of the least of these, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Then, we leave church and drive past the first homeless person we see,” Bryan commented. “As God’s people we need to act upon our faith.”