By: Katie Sobiech
One year ago we covered a story on the Salvation Army’s Canteen outreach. During the dead of winter we visited camps of men and women living in the woods, in frail tents.
This trip was eye opening. Many were unaware of the fact that such poverty existed here in Akron.
Though these “cities” under that particular bridge no longer exist, they have scattered elsewhere.
“The tent cities were cleared out by the cops, which has forced many (homeless) to go to shelters or rehab” Jon Soza, Program Coordinator at the Salvation Army and Pastor at the Citadel, said.
Though some have just moved their tents to other outdoor locations to set up their camps, others have begun turning their lives around.
“We’ve gotten six guys out of tents and into hospitals and houses,” Soza said of their results this winter.
Soza has been taking the Salvation Army canteen truck out faithfully to minister to the homeless for years now. He reaches out to those not only battling physical hunger, but spiritual hunger as well.
The seeds planted all throughout those years are beginning to grow rapidly.
Clyde Hensley, 43 years old, who used to call the tent city home, is a prime example.
Soza and the Salvation Army group found Hensley sitting on railroad tracks right before a train nearly hit him. Seeing the train, they began to yell and move him out of the way, saving Hensley’s life.
“I was living at a campsite with a couple of other guys, drinking on a regular basis and pan handling. I was pretty inebriated and then Jon came down,” Hensley remembers.
Hensley says Soza visited often, bringing food, praying and talking with him.
“I was literally prayed in, to get me back together,” Hensley said.
From Death to Life
“People at the (Adult Rehabilitation Center) thought Clyde was dead,” Soza said, which is what led him on a search for Hensley in the first place.
“It was after that, that he realized people loved him and life is worth living. It was a false report of him being dead that brought him to life,” Soza said.
The next morning, Hensley came to church at the Salvation Army Citadel.
Soza says that showing Hensley that people loved him was instrumental in his coming around.
“I was really just existing,” Hensley explained, “But when I got to church that day, something came over me. It was overwhelming to say the least. It was like ‘I do mean something to somebody’.”
Hensley started off his New Year right, playing guitar for the first time in the Citadel’s worship band. He has been staying at the ARC for four months now.
“It’s a miracle. A lot of people didn’t think I’d make it through two days when I got here at the ARC (Adult Rehabilitation Center),” Hensley said.
“There was no life left in me, but slowly but surely I came around. I started reading the Bible and doing what I needed to do, and it’s amazing what more God and no alcohol can do for you,” he shared.
Before becoming homeless, Hensley was a musician with four records out. Unfortunately he lost his dream for a while due to his addiction to alcohol, which landed him on the streets.
“I’m trying to get back into it now and I’m writing Christian music,” he said. “I’m just trying to look towards the future and I have a closer relationship with God now. Jon’s helped me so much. It’s beautiful now. Very beautiful,” he said.
Enough is Enough
Ricky Moore is another miracle. Once living underneath a bridge with Lenny King, the man who was set on fire by strangers, he has now been at the ARC for four months.
Soza would visit Moore while he was homeless, regularly.
“I’ve seen Jon for three years now. If we needed food or clothes he’d bring us something. We’d shake his hand, have prayers and everything, but didn’t stop drinking. Until I had enough,” Moore said.
“I got up in the morning one day and said ‘I’m 50 years old. I’ve had enough. Enough is enough,” he said.
Before that day, Moore spent his days drinking under a bridge with King.
“Matter of fact, me and Lenny was down there in 18 below zero weather with one blanket,” Moore recalls, “If it wasn’t for God, we would have never made it.”
Their “home” under the bridge consisted of three mattresses, including one for guests.
“There was an extra bed incase anyone strayed through,” Moore explained, “You could more or less pick out if they would fit in or if they were going to rob you or something.”
This infamous bridge is known for being a danger zone, with drugs, alcohol and violence often near. Moore once found a young man, 23 years old, dead, there, as well as a girl who was raped and left.
Until Jon stepped in, life looked hopeless for these men.
“The first time I met Rick was when we pulled up to the bridge where Lenny stayed. We yelled ‘Salvation Army! Are you guy’s hungry?’ They said ‘Oh my God. We were just asking God, we didn’t know what we were going to eat tonight’. The timing was impeccable,” Soza said.
“John would come see us all the time. We had our bottle, our whiskey, our beer. He never criticized us or anything but he said ‘Why don’t you go to the ARC?'”, Moore said.
Once a heroine addict and alcoholic, Moore says he has no desire for those things anymore.
“I go to church, I go to every meeting I can hit, I go to the Citadel and Community of Christ down the street,” he said.
Moore used to run his own business as a landscaper, but says alcohol and drugs blew it all away.
“Now I’ve got God in my heart,” he said. And everything’s changing.
From Addict to Soldier
Joe Bukovinsky’s life has also taken a 180, thanks to the Salvation Army.
“I had a pretty good life,” said the 28 year old, “but got involved in drugs in high school.”
This habit lasted 13 years, and it wasn’t until his son was born that he realized something needed to change.
“Ever since that moment, things got real bad. I lost my house, my girlfriend, all of my jobs, was staying house to house and then wasn’t staying anywhere,” he said.
“One day I prayed ‘God I’m sick of this. I need some help’,” he said.
He entered a detox center and then, after contacting 13 different rehabilitation centers, ended up at the ARC.
Soza preached at church that Sunday morning and became Bukovinsky’s mentor shortly there after.
Suddenly Bukovinsky’s desires began to change.
“I wanted to help and go out and do things. Going out on the canteen was the best thing I could have ever done. I learned how to minister to people and share my experiences of what I went through with them, and try to get them into a program,” he said.
He is now on the worship team at the Citadel Church, and a soldier with the Salvation Army.
“It’s been a life changing experience,” he said.
He hopes to become a Pastor and Salvation Army Officer one day.
God is Moving
“It’s like God just moved me right into where I needed to be. I’m trying to move forward. Everything is going in a good direction,” Bukovinsky shared, “Jon has been an inspiration and good mentor. This program is great and taught me a lot of things; what I was doing wrong and how to fix it.”
Soza picks guys up every Thursday night, taking them to the ARC where he teaches Bible study. He also preaches and leads Bible study every Wednesday and Sunday at the Citadel.
“Today life’s good,” Hensley said.
“God’s good,” Moore added.
For more information and how you can be a part of the Salvation Army outreach please contact 330.762.8481.