Two friends sat quietly at a wooden picnic bench enjoying another day in each other's company. John Bond, 46, and Anthony Reed, 49, have been a big part of the building the homeless community has come to rely on in Clearwater.
Life wasn't always easy for the homeless duo.
“I got stabbed out here eight times. Punctured a hole in my spleen and my lung. 31 staples and 11 stitches,” said Bond. “(This place) means everything to me because if I didn’t have this, I wouldn’t have anything.”
The Refuge outreach church offered hope for Bond, Reed and many of the homeless members of the Clearwater community. The church, started by Shaun and Michele Powers in 2016, helps homeless men and women obtain ID cards and birth certificates.
“It was 30 years since the last time that I stepped on church grounds,” said Reed. “The first day I stepped out here you just had that feeling that it was home. This ground is blessed. Everyone that comes here is blessed.”
Reed spent 20 years as an executive chef but a drug habit landed him in jail. One drug led to another and eventually spice became his vice. It was easier to get than alcohol. He'd spend between $100-$150 per day on drugs to feed his habit. It led to jail time. He got out after four months and has been clean since December 2017.
Bond scrawled "HUNGRY" on a slab of cardboard with black marker. Begging isn't what he wants to do but knows it turns results. He doesn't stand on corners and ask for handout much anymore. The Refuge has helped him, and many others, find stability through housing, jobs and food.
The Clearwater Police Department says there are 78 homeless people within city limits. Nearly half arrive daily at The Refuge. Reed and Bond were two of the men the Powers asked to assist in the cleanup for the 100-year old building.
“They’re really nice people,” said Bond. “If they take their whole life savings and open up a church for the homeless, that’s awesome.”
Now, the duo is excited about the progress they see from fellow homeless people, thanks to The Refuge.
“Where would I be? Probably another statistic and dead or in prison the rest of my life,” said Reed. “That’s where I was headed.”