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Part 3: Faces of the Homeless: Ezekiel O'Neal

By Gheni_Platenburg
Feb. 7, 2011 at 8:01 p.m.
Updated Feb. 6, 2011 at 8:07 p.m.

Ezekiel O'Neal finishes making a hamburger at Sonic Drive-In on John Stockbauer Drive, where he works full-time as a cook. "I'm not afraid to be a success," said O'Neal, who has lived at the Salvation Army Shelter since June.

BIOGRAPHY: Name: Ezekiel O'Neal

Age: 57

Location: Victoria

Occupation: Cook and crew leader at Sonic Drive-In

A DIFFERENT FACEWith homeless numbers on the rise, the demographics of the homeless are becoming increasingly diverse.

Stereotypical statements that the homeless are without housing because they are lazy, on drugs or just unwilling to work are no longer appropriate, contends Robert "Doc" Bartlett, the shelter director for the Victoria Salvation Army's homeless shelter.

The faces of the homeless are people who bag our groceries, fix french fries at fast-food restaurants or students who are studying to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Three area homeless men agreed to share their stories to help put a face on the changing face of homelessness.

Read about them:

Sunday: Ryan Ladner

Monday: Cliff Manchaca

Tuesday: Ezekiel O'Neal

Ezekiel O'Neal knows that he is where he is today only by the grace of God.

As he gets settled in to the Salvation Army's homeless shelter for the evening, he can't help but be grateful for having overcome numerous tribulations in his life, including a major drug addiction that led to a lengthy criminal record.

"I feel like God has something for me," said O'Neal, 57. "I've given my life to God so that He may take me and do things of his will with me."

O'Neal has been part of the Salvation Army's transitional housing program since June. Per program regulations, he spends his days working as a cook and crew-leader for a Victoria Sonic Drive-In in hopes of making a better life for himself.

"I look at it as an afforded opportunity to prove myself a responsible person, to earn the respect and acceptance of being a responsible citizen again," said O'Neal. "I made mistakes, and as I've learned, these mistakes can be corrected, but one has to want to change oneself."

O'Neal admitted his demeanor today is far different from that of yesteryear.

A Bay City native, O'Neal said his path to destruction began while he was serving as a petty officer in the Navy.

"During wartime, drugs were plentiful," he said. "You would pull into the port and go into the city, and the drugs would be there."

When he left the military in 1972, he went to work for the Texas Highway Department as a dirt work engineer in an attempt to do the responsible thing and provide financially for his daughter. However, the seeds of a budding drug addiction had already been sewn.

"My social peers were all involved with smoking and drinking," O'Neal said. "I ended up getting caught up with some guys who got arrested for forgery. I was in the county jail for six days, but that was two days longer than they could hold my job."

For the next few years, O'Neal said he continued to experience ups and downs, but mostly downs.

A search of Texas Department of Public Safety records revealed O'Neal had been arrested six times from 1997 to 2008 for crimes including forgery, unlawful delivery of a controlled substance and theft.

His crimes landed him in jail, prison and eventually a behavior modification center in San Diego, Texas. After being released, O'Neal came to detoxify at Cozzi Circle Treatment Associates.

As part of a required six-month outpatient program, O'Neal was required to find housing at a nearby halfway house, which brought him to the Salvation Army's homeless shelter.

"When nothing changes, then nothing changes," said O'Neal, who added that he began making a concerted effort to stay out of trouble after arriving at the shelter.

O'Neal finished his outpatient requirement in December, but he has decided to stay on at the shelter while he works on building a new life for himself in Victoria.

"The only thing I see here is people going to work and back home throughout the week and going to church on Sunday. That's what I'm looking for," he said. "There are tests out there that I need to take to ensure I'll do right continually. Here in Victoria, I'm preparing to test the waters."

So far, O'Neal seems to be succeeding.

"He is a very, very good worker," said Juan Miguel Gonzales, the general manager of the Sonic Drive-In on John Stockbauer Drive. "You have to admire a guy who walks from the Salvation Army to get to our location on John Stockbauer."

He added, "I have great admiration for him wanting to turn his life around."

O'Neal's family was also pleased with his new outlook on life.

"He's still working on some things. I'm hoping and praying they come through," said Roxie O'Neal, Ezekiel's mother. "I'm confident he will complete whatever he started, if given a chance."

O'Neal said he plans to purchase a house by the end of February and enroll in Victoria College in the fall, where he will study business and social work. "I have so much to share with people, whether they choose to receive it or not," said O'Neal, who is a member at Faith Family Church. "I can attest that God is real."

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