FEBRUARY 21, 2012
by Chloe Kowalski, 12, Contributing Writer
With Furman as a second home, sheltered students do not often engage in candid conversations with the homeless. However, on Monday night, Burgiss Theater teemed to the brim with students sitting in the aisles ready to listen and learn from those who have been where they have not.
Panelists and Greenville residents Bobby Thompson, Margaret Tripp, and Damon Clifton each shared their unique stories united by the commonality of bad homes, bad marriages, and bad luck that ultimately floored their faith and left them void of a roof to call their own.
“I always thought that being homeless was the last place I could go, but as it turns out, being homeless was the first step up,” said Tripp.
She said her “hopeless” situation began as a child with an alcoholic father and intensified after a sour marriage. It culminated when she was eventually forced to beg for mercy at multiple shelter doors. Today Tripp, 65, is proud of the one acre of land and home she owns.
“Be someone’s cheerleader,” she strongly urged the crowd. “You never know how big of a difference a little encouragement can make in a seemingly hopeless situation.”
From living large to living low, Thompson now lives to give back to the community he claims to have taken from for a long time. After successfully holding two full-time jobs that provided three cars and a nice house, Thompson could not escape the failure of his marriage and sudden loss of employment.
He regretfully traded the house, cars, and employment for a mess of taxing, temporary jobs that were alleviated through beer, liquor, then weed, and eventually crack-cocaine. Thompson recovered, though, and staged a full turn-around. He now owns his own home again and gives his time back freely to the Frazee Center, Triune Mercy Center, and Haiti among other charitable causes.
Like Thompson, Clifton faced economic hardship in 2008 when his position as a landscape architect failed to provide any customers. Despite his University of Georgia degree, Clifton currently lives out of a tent in Greenville. A choice, he claims, that is really his only option while he continues to look for a job.
Psychology Professor Elaine Nocks moderated the event, which was hosted by the Heller Service Corps.