On this cold, rainy night, Tim Valente is minding his business, sleeping under a covered hallway in an Albertsons parking lot near Sahara Avenue and Maryland Parkway. Valente and his “lady,” Darlene, lie bundled in sleeping bags, with all of their possessions in a shopping cart next to them.
Valente is awakened by a man who has been in the same position. Ron Cornell, who spent 17 years sleeping on the streets of Las Vegas, asks them if they would like some socks, coffee and food, which they accept.
Cornell and his four friends drove around that Jan. 25 evening searching for homeless people, giving out bags of supplies and encouraging them –– when they are ready –– to go to the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, 480 W. Bonanza Road.
Before leaving, Cornell asks if he can pray for Valente. The two hold hands, and Cornell asks for God’s help.
Valente says he was once a professional bass guitarist and has released two albums. He adds that he has been homeless for “a long time.”
“God bless you,” Valente tells them before they leave.
Cornell is a member of 2 Act Ministries, a group of recovered alcoholics and drug addicts who banded together a little more than two years ago to help others.
FINDING A CALLING
“The Lord has done a lot for me in my life,” Cornell said. “I was just asking him what I could do for him, and he just put it on my heart to remember when I was on the streets and what someone could have said or done to maybe get through to me and help me off the streets quicker.
“I always remembered a lot of condemnation. Being on the streets, a lot of people say you’re worthless and all this stuff.
“Our main goal is to let them know they’re loved and there are programs available.”
There is Cornell, who is the only one in the group who spent extended time homeless. He started drinking at 12 and spent decades using methamphetamine, heroin and every other drug he could.
Other members of the ministry include David Murdock and his wife, Cindy Rebisz-Murdock, Chris Reyes and Brandon Green.
The name of the group, explains Rebisz-Murdock, has two meanings.
In the Bible, Acts 2:42 “talks about how the believers met and fellowshipped together and shared everything they had,” she said. “We come together, we fellowship and give away everything we have.
“Also, for us, it’s the second act of our lives. The first act was kind of messed up.”
GROUP MEMBERS FOUND HELP AT RESCUE MISSION
They came from different parts of the country and have various tales of how they ended up in Las Vegas, but all have two things in common: They spent most of their lives addicted to alcohol and drugs, and they all went through the recovery program at the Rescue Mission to get clean.
The Rescue Mission offers a yearlong program for addicts. Cornell describes it as a 12-step “Christ-centered” program, which includes eight hours of work, eight hours of classes and eight hours of sleep each day.
The Rescue Mission’s director of development, John Fogal, said 76 people completed the program out of 301 enrolled last year. Some of those –– at least 15 –– were duplicates, or people who enrolled, left and re-enrolled, he said. Fogal also said that some stay only a day or two and leave and do not commit to the program but are still counted. Most of those who leave do so during the first three months, he said, and the longer they stay in the program, the higher the rate of completion.
The group does seven outreach programs together each month to help the valley’s homeless, passing out food or Bibles or just having conversations. On this night, Jan. 25 –– and every last Friday of the month –– they gather at the Murdocks’ trailer home near Boulder Highway and Sahara Avenue and break bread together, or in this case, a pot of beans and ham with a side of bread.
Before leaving, they circle up and hold hands. Cornell removes his baseball cap with “JESUS” across the front before leading them in prayer.
“We thank you for your love and grace,” he says. “Thank you for this time. Lord, all this we’re going to do tonight, we pray you give us safe travels. Allow them to hear something we have to say. Lord, we thank you, and we love you.”
They have already loaded up two vans with coffee, water and bags of food and supplies.
The food bags have a sandwich, an orange, cookies and Fruit Roll-Ups. The supplies bags contain soap, a razor, shaving cream, toothpaste, a toothbrush, lip balm, hand wipes, lotion, some religious reading material, a pamphlet with Cornell’s story and directions to the Rescue Mission and, most importantly, socks.
Yes, socks –– that’s what started it all.
Cornell said socks –– other than food and water, of course –– are the greatest thing a homeless person can get. Cornell used to wear the same pair for months at a time.
“There was one time I had worn my socks so long, I had to peel them off my feet, and I was screaming as I pulled them off,” he said.
Cornell approached the Murdocks at a Bible study with the idea of giving out socks to the homeless. So, in October 2010, they did their first outreach, and 2 Act Ministries unofficially started. It received nonprofit status in November.
HITTING THE STREETS: ‘RON’S GOT AN EAGLE EYE’
The five left the trailer home in two vans at 6 p.m. Jan. 25 and headed south on McLeod Drive, then west on Tropicana Avenue. Cornell always drives the lead van and communicates via radio with the other van.
“We trust Ron to find the homeless people,” Murdock said. “He can tell. He’s been out there long enough to really know. Ron’s got an eagle eye.”
Because of the weather, tonight is going to be especially difficult, they say, because many of the homeless will seek shelter, often out of sight.
“Dumpsters make great shelters if they have to,” Murdock said.
The homeless population in Clark County was 9,432 in 2011, down from 13,338 in 2009, according to officials who perform biannual counts with the help of volunteers. The 2013 count was done in January, and those figures are expected to be released in the spring.
After about 20 minutes of searching, they spot John standing at the corner of Tropicana and Eastern avenues, wearing a Chicago Bears sweatshirt and holding a misspelled sign that reads, “I’me homeless.”
They chat with him for a few minutes over a cup of coffee and offer him a Bible.
“As long as it’s got the Old Testament,” John says. “I’m Jewish.”
They say their goodbyes and John leaves, but not before he says, “God bless you.”
They meet others on their trip, including Jay Santoro near Tropicana Avenue and Maryland Parkway. He has been on the streets “too many years,” he says, and is ecstatic just to have people to talk to. They also meet Gabriel near Maryland Parkway and Flamingo Road. He’s carrying his belongings in a milk crate and reciting a poem about Lucifer.
They talk to the men for a few minutes each and offer help getting off the streets. A lot of people are not ready to leave, Cornell says. You cannot make them do it; you can only offer support, he adds.
After two hours, they have given out only 10 bags and have 20 left.
“OK, Lord,” Cornell says, “send us some more people.”
They find Scott Dubois, pushing a shopping cart, and Norbert Sellers, sitting behind a pharmacy drive-thru, before finding Valente, the former bass guitarist.
The group decides to drive downtown where the homeless people are most concentrated. They park across from the Rescue Mission, where dozens of people are camped out. Word spreads quickly, and all the supplies are gone within minutes, with many people being turned away.
MONTHLY OUTREACHES ARE PHASE ONE OF GROUP’S PLAN
These monthly outreach programs are the first of three phases in the ministry’s plan, Rebisz-Murdock said. They plan to open a local resource center to provide assistance, counseling, classes and many other services to help the homeless get off the streets and find employment.
The third phase is to start an out-of-state recovery farm with a yearlong rehab program. Addicts could go to a new environment and work on the farm while getting help.
These are more dreams than plans at this point, though, she said, as 2 Act Ministries receives about $300 to $600 worth of food, supplies and donations each month, barely enough to fulfill their current outreaches. Donations have come mostly from churches and churchgoers who have heard about the ministry.
HELP FROM AN UNEXPECTED SOURCE
They also get help from an unexpected benefactor.
About 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas, 9-year-old Mckenzie Caldwell pulls a rusted red wagon behind her. She goes door-to-door in the small town of Logandale, asking neighbors if they would like to donate anything to the homeless.
She visits Linda Palmer’s house first on Jan. 29. Mckenzie leaves her wagon in the street, knocks on the door and is invited inside. It is a successful start to the day. Palmer sews ski hats as a hobby and donates two to Mckenzie.
Back at Mckenzie’s home, the kitchen table is covered in donations. There are boxes of toothpaste, lotions, blankets, scarves, noodles and more. It all will go to 2 Act Ministries and the homeless in Las Vegas.
Mckenzie’s parents, Andy and Cein Caldwell, did not put her up to it. The family volunteers at the Rescue Mission every Sunday.
“Mckenzie serves a lot,” Cein Caldwell said. “She’s at the mission at least once a week, so she sees the need for it.
“Mckenzie started talking about collecting donations, so she just went and got her little wagon and started collecting donations.”
Mckenzie started last fall, but it was a slow start. During the first trip, “I went all the way around the neighborhood, and I didn’t even get one (donation),” Mckenzie said.
But then something unexpected happened.
“We would just come home, and there would just be donations on our front door,” Cein Caldwell said.
The family even started keeping a bin on the front porch for easy collecting.
Mckenzie is well-known around the neighborhood and has earned a reputation as being tenacious. When people are not home or do not have donations to give, Mckenzie leaves a list of needed items. They can drop items off at her home or, as the neighborhood has learned, she’ll be back.
Mckenzie said she plans to keep collecting supplies for Las Vegas’ homeless about once a month.
“They’re kind of far away, but I know they’re there,” she says.
The next night outreach is planned for Friday. For more information or to donate, visit 2actministries.org or call 702-752-8726.
Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at email@example.com or 702-224-5524.