I knew Matt, but not that well. He was one of the unsheltered homeless living in a tent in the woods in Prince William County.
Matt used to stand on the median of Shoppers Best Way where it intersects with Prince William Parkway near Potomac Mills Mall. I’d chat with him now and then and give him a $5 McDonald’s gift card. I keep gift cards in my truck for the unsheltered homeless. Matt used those gift cards to buy specialty drinks at the McDonald’s next to his panhandling spot.
Matt’s body was found in his tent on May 4.
There are angels in Prince William County who quietly take care of our unsheltered homeless any way they can. Joyce Entremont is one of those angels. She remembered Matt well. The best obituary Matt will get is her post on Facebook: “Matt was a gentlemanly type, and was always very respectful. He had so much potential, and was pretty darned smart. Look how handsome he could be when he was cleaned up, and shaven! This might just be the greatest loss (to me) of all the deaths out there.”
Entremont remembers at least 10 deaths in the woods over the past few years.
Those who know Entremont know she works hard to get people whatever help they need. She feeds her friends in the woods, clothes them, helps them find a place to live, lines up furniture, gets them to the medical help they need and raises money when necessary. She also helps those with substance abuse issues get into rehab, makes sure they stay there, shows up when they graduate and makes sure they don’t relapse. Entremont has helped 50 people enter rehab. She can’t save everyone, but she tries.
Prince William does provide a number of services for the unsheltered homeless. The county’s budget for fiscal year 2022, which begins in July, will expand homeless services, including providing new case management services in the Sudley corridor and developing an equity and inclusion program.
Several private groups also provide services. Streetlight, HUGS, the Dar Al-Noor Islamic Community Center, Manassas Hunger & Homeless Outreach (MH&HO) Ministries Inc., Helping Neighbors in Need, ACTS and SERVE are groups I’ve worked with over the years. There are many others. There is a good chance any faith-based or secular organization you are affiliated with has an unsheltered homeless outreach program.
If I missed one, feel free to add it to the comments on this column online. I hope those lucky enough to enjoy abundance in our community find ways to give a little to the program of their choice.
Many of our unsheltered homeless are just regular folks with jobs who are down on their luck and can’t afford housing. Others may have drug abuse or mental health issues that, without proper treatment and medication, may prevent them from seeking the help they need. A few, for complicated reasons we may never understand, simply prefer to live in the woods.
My own experience is that folks who have lived in the woods for a long time are reluctant to ask for help and need assistance re-integrating into the community. There is no “one size fits all” solution.
Matt was a gentle soul with a problem. He had a lot of friends. I like to think I was one of them. There are more like Matt out there. We may not be able to help them all, but we can try. Until we figure that out, I’ll keep a stack of those McDonald’s gift cards in my truck.