Vigil honors homeless man who died during homelessness awareness week (w/video)

Bianca Montes By Bianca Montes

Nov. 23, 2013 at 5:23 a.m.
Updated Nov. 24, 2013 at 5:24 a.m.

Kim Pickens, president of the Victoria Area Homeless Coalition, takes a moment Saturday night at the bench where Donald Greeley was found dead the morning of Nov. 24. Pickens arranged a small vigil and placed flowers and candles on the bench.

Kim Pickens, president of the Victoria Area Homeless Coalition, takes a moment Saturday night at the bench where Donald Greeley was found dead the morning of Nov. 24. Pickens arranged a small vigil and placed flowers and candles on the bench.   Angeli Wright for The Victoria Advocate

A chilled wind gust through the parking lot of the Busby Dancenter on Saturday night.

The air was relentless and continually blew out two candles sitting at the foot of a small wooden bench. But those in the parking lot did not give up - they endured the weather and kept the flames going.

It was for Bobby.

It was to honor the life of a homeless man who sat down on the bench last Sunday and died before the sun rose.

"You don't know if he has a family," said Joe Aguillon, 57, of Victoria, as he watched the candles burn.

Aguillon did not know the man who died, but that did not stop him from cuddling up inside a thick winter coat and praying for a stranger's life. "We need to reach out to people in this situation. I just came to pray for him - he'd already suffered enough."

Aguillon and about 10 others joined the Victoria Area Homeless Coalition on Saturday night to remember and pray for Donald Robert Greeley, 53, of Victoria.

Greeley was considered one of Victoria's many homeless.

According to a count by the coalition, Victoria has about 233 homeless adults. Victoria Independent School District says 947 of its students are identified as homeless.

"As far as immediate temporary housing, there is no care for families in Victoria," said coalition president Kim Perkins. "There are a lot of gaps that we have here."

It is unclear where Greeley lived when he died. Capt. Laura Martin of the Salvation Army said he was a previous resident at the group's men's shelter but left.

The Salvation Army has a men's shelter that has a 25-bed capacity.

"There is not enough shelter space," Martin agreed, saying that some homeless people choose not to take advantages of the services because they "have no desire to conform to rules."

"They'd rather pan it out on the streets; they feel that's their security."

Greeley's sister, Shirley Elmore, said her brother was living outside of an apartment building in Victoria but that he was trying to pull his life together.

"He had trials and tribulations in his life that would keep us all separated," she said. "Sometimes, we were weary about him cleaning up his act."

Elmore said her brother had a history of drug abuse that landed him in jail.

"He was in prison when our mother passed away four years ago," she said. "I think he felt a lot of guilt. He had a lot of pain about the thing he had put us through over the years - the stealing and lying."

Elmore said she believed her brother had cleaned up his life while living in Victoria. He had just obtained a job at Golden Corral as a grill chef.

"He was very outgoing," said kitchen manager Rocky Vasquez. "He was a big-hearted person. He was always willing to help others and stay longer to work.

"He always wanted to work as much as he could."

Martin said she was not aware that Greeley was again homeless, saying that it is hard to keep up with people once they leave a facility.

"If they leave forwarding information, we'll check on them," she said. "But we don't go looking for them."

Debbie Busby, who owns the dance center Greeley died in front of, said she had no idea the homeless problem was bad in Victoria.

"More information needs to be out there," she said. "How sad that someone was alone" in that situation. "It's just sad. Any human being on the planet deserves respect, honor."

Perkins said the homeless situation is pretty overwhelming when you look at it.

"There are always reasons that things happen," she said. "I believe this opens the door to raise awareness for homelessness."

Nov. 16 through Nov. 24 was National Hunger and Awareness Week.

The Victoria Area Homeless Coalition hosted a week of events to bring awareness to a cause, Perkins said, that "nobody wants to talk about."

"No one wants to believe it's true," she said. "This whole week has been a very moving experience for a lot of us.

"He was a human being, and we want to acknowledge that."

Elmore said her brother had a great sense of humor, and despite his demons, she said he always made her laugh. "I always wished more for him," she said.

"I keep envisioning him sitting on that bench without any of us surrounding him," she said. "It comforts my heart to know God was watching him."

Elmore said her brother will be cremated, and his ashes will be spread on the graves of his mother and father.

"His biggest regret was not being there when his mother died," she said. "We realize that he was changing for the good. I prayed and prayed the demons would stay away and not torture him anymore."



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