Homeless Ohioan's luck may give others in Midlands hope

By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Ted Williams was a homeless ex-con and former addict with no money and a bleak future. Nevertheless, after a bit of good fortune, he's an international celebrity with job offers popping up all over, and it's all thanks to his golden voice.

Williams may have never had an opportunity if not for an Ohio reporter taking a chance and interviewing him. His success shows what might be possible for others down on their luck in the Midlands.

Workers are forming the foundation of the new Transitions center at the corner of Columbia's Main and Elmwood one brick at a time. By April, the members of the Midlands Housing Alliance hope Transitions will be able to start helping the homeless build foundations for their lives that are just as solid.

The organization said when that process is successful, many of the more than 1,000 homeless in Richland and Lexington counties will be able to get off the streets for good. "Our program it is called Transitions for a reason," said Director Larry Arney, "It is not really supplying emergency needs, like housing and meals. We do that but only as a means to an end, and that end is to get people back into permanent housing and become self-reliant."

The explosion of publicity centered on Williams may be helping advocates for the homeless make their case. In only a few days, he has gone from panhandling on an Ohio roadside to network TV appearances and a contract with the Kraft company to sell macaroni and cheese.

Arney explained it could be hard for Williams to adjust. "I think high media visibility for someone who isn't used to it, who hasn't really kind of chosen a profession that puts them in that kind of life, it's hard for anyone to take - but certainly someone like him, who's obviously had some problems in his life."

However, Arney says with permanent housing, proper support and a steady income, many of the homeless become extremely productive. "It's very possible and very doable," stated Arney, "It usually requires a strong network of support - friends, family and sometimes professional help too."

The Transitions center is still on track to open in April, but Arney says the project is about two weeks behind schedule due to cold weather.

The annual one day homeless count will be conducted at the end of the month. It will help determine the amount of federal support funneled to the problem locally. Last year's estimate put the figure roughly at 1,400 in a multi-county area, but organizers said the actual number of homeless might be double or even triple that amount.

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