Martin County, Florida is a place that has seen increasing homelessness in recent years. The city’s homeless problem is hard enough to quantify let alone to crack, and 610 people were recently designated as homeless and in dire need of assistance.
For so many people, life on the streets takes its toll with the passage of time. Many homeless people are addicted to drugs and alcohol and their life expectancy, in general, is way shorter than that of the wider community. However, within desperation lies hope, and Bobby Wilk is a true testament to that.
Featured Photo Credit: Gil Smart
Martin County is a county located in the Treasure Coast region in the state of Florida. With its county seat in Stuart, the population of Martin County stands at roughly 150,000 residents. The place was named after John W. Martin, who was the Governor of Florida from 1925 to 1929.
Like many other places, Martin County has a homeless issue, and that includes homeless children. Even the Martin County School District recently identified at least 439 homeless people this year alone. Whatever the real number remains a mystery but as there are no emergency homeless shelters in Martin County many people don’t receive the help they so badly need.
For the time being, there are only small solutions to the homeless issues in Martin County and no immediate solution or any sort of “big fix.” One example of success is a man called Bobby Wilk who, against all the odds, brought himself out from a terrible situation living rough and taking drugs, engaging in something far more worthwhile.
Wilk, who panhandled alone the U.S. 1 for years to make ends meet, has been a drug addict for the best part of 30 years. Due to his appearance, he acquired the nickname “Shaggy” and often sold drugs in order to finance his habit. He lived for years in the woods around Stuart and was in the Martin County jail at least 20 times.
For years Wilk said he felt totally worthless due to his drug addiction and the lifestyle that accompanied it. “I was worthless,” he said according to a tcpalm.com report. Fast forward a little though, and Wilk turned his life around and decided to go about helping others to do the same thing.
Love and Hope
Wilk decided one day that enough was enough and that’s when he went ahead and turned his life around. Having been totally clean from drugs for more than three months, Wilk started volunteering at LAHIA, Love and Hope in Action on Salerno Road in Stuart. This faith-based initiative feeds the hungry and reaches out to people in need.
When Wilk first heard about LAHIA, he attended their meetings to get some free food and to find people to sell drugs to. But he was so enamored by the amazing work the organization was doing that he decided to clean his act up and join forces with them.
As it turned out, Wilk was “one of the most incredible transformations” ever seen by the organization, and they even wrote about his achievements in their newsletter. Soon after he met Director of Client Services Michelle Miller and some of the other staffers he was taken when they told him they loved him and then prayed with him.
This moment moved Wilk more than he had ever been before. The unconditional love, the support and free food – Wilk knew he had to do something to turn his life around and to give something back to the community at the same time. until that point, Wilk hadn’t even believed in God.
As Wilk explained to reporters, “I’d seen so much out there in the woods, I thought: There can’t be no God,” he said. He then began to pray quietly to himself, with comments like, “I don’t want to do this anymore, but I don’t know how to stop,’ ” he said. “It’s hard making that first step,” he added.
Following his most recent arrest for possession of drug paraphernalia, Wilk said he took a long hard look in the proverbial mirror and looking at his last three remaining pieces of crack cocaine said, “This is the last time I’m going to do this drug.” He was right so far and following some heavy detox hasn’t touched drugs for months.
As Wilk explained to the press, “I killed him,” referring to his nickname Shaggy and everything that entailed. He immersed himself with LAHIA and also became a full-time volunteer. But Wilk also went one step further. He helped recently to found a Narcotics Anonymous group which meets at LAHIA Mondays.
As Wilk explained: “If you’re an addict and you live in the woods around Port Salerno, the nearest NA meetings are in Port St. Lucie or Jensen Beach,” he said. “And most addicts don’t have a car.” He also added that “people I used to sell drugs to are coming here for meetings.”
Having risen from the haze of dozens of years of drug abuse Wilk got himself a few different jobs to make some money to live. When he isn’t working in kitchens and cooking, he can be found doing small construction jobs for private people and even repairs cars. He also has a knack at diffusing tense or potentially violent situations with the people who come to LAHIA.
Nature of Addiction
Miller also told reporters that the staff had learned a bunch about the nature of drug addiction through working closely with Wilk. Nevertheless, there is some resentment towards Wilk from other people at LAHIA. “People who are jealous say, ‘Oh you think you’re so much better than us now,’ ” said Miller.
A woman who had known Wilk for the best part of 20 years approached him at one LAHIA meeting and asked about attending an NA meeting he had set up. “She said, ‘I didn’t think you were going to do it, but you’re really doing it,’ ” he said. He added that it is now his mission “to instill that hope in people like me.”
Another homeless man called Austin Cottle wasn’t nearly as lucky as Bobby Wilk, as reported by the same publication. Cottle was found on the streets and taken to Martin Medical Center, winding up in intensive care immediately upon his arrival. He had pneumonia and a urinary tract infection.
Cottle had been living rough in the woods just like Wilk for the best part of 20 years. Like Wilk, he had nowhere else to go and apart from some kind locals who would bring him food on occasion he had no one to help or support him. Cottle sadly died in hospital and was unable to turn his life around in the way that Wilk did.
For his part, Bobby Wilk is a true testament to how a person can turn their life around with just a little willpower and effort. Wilk is even talking about becoming a full-time member of the fixed staff team over at LAHIA, a move he hopes will enable him to be able to help others in similar situations to him and those in need.
While the story of Bobby Wilk is a good and comforting one, it still leaves many unanswered questions about the situation with homelessness in Martin County. Without a solid plan of action in place at this time it remains to be seen what will happen to people like Wilk who would turn their lives around given half the chance.