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Bittersweet days for Willie Glenn
Local residents help Glenn find new home; hes reunited with younger brother one last time
Willie Glenn begins to unpack items Thursday afternoon as he makes the move to his new apartment at Church Street Manor. The opportunity to move into the apartment complex came just in time as he was forced to move from his old apartments as they were being gutted for renovation.

How to help

Local real estate professional Debbie Roseberry-Odom has set up a GoFundMe account, an online platform that accepts donations, to raise money for Willie Glenn’s living expenses. 

It is said that death and taxes are the only certainties in life. Willie Glenn got a taste of one last week, and the other reminds him that the rent is due.

“It ain’t been easy for me,” he said, a slight drawl stretching the life and meaning of each lamentable word.

The bittersweet summer began when Glenn, a 63-year-old disabled Navy veteran whose sprawling family laid roots in Gainesville decades ago, was given notice by the landlord that he would need to vacate his one-room basement apartment near the downtown square.

The complex is in the midst of a makeover, and renovations will drive rents higher for new tenants.

That left Glenn, who lives on a fixed-income, with limited options in finding a new place at a similar expense.

Glenn said he had a pension from Veterans Affairs cut when he started receiving Social Security checks. He now lives on just $595 a month.

“When you’re low-income and can’t get no assistance, that’s a double-whammy right there …” he said.

But with time running short to clear out, just as his neighbors had done weeks before, Glenn came to know the generosity of local residents who felt they owed him a debt of gratitude.

“What compelled me to reach out to Willie? A lot of things,” said Debbie Roseberry-Odom, a local real estate professional, adding that her father was also a veteran, serving honorably in World War II and the Korean War.

And in the headache and hassle of moving, a lost brother made his way home to Willie just in time to find reconciliation and, perhaps, some peace of mind.

“He knew I was in need,” Glenn said. “He stepped right up.”

 Good luck moving up, ’cause I’m moving out

After serving during the Vietnam era, Glenn worked construction and electrical trade jobs in Gainesville before health problems forced him into retirement.

He had his left leg amputated about seven years ago following medical complications from heart trouble. Since then, he’s gotten around in his electric wheelchair, which can log nearly 16 miles on a single charge.

Glenn is often seen bounding down residential streets and across thoroughfares in the heart of the city, dressed in a T-shirt and black jeans usually, one pant leg rolled up to where the incision was made, acting as a pocket for his phone.

He looks around when he speaks, as if observing and taking in his surroundings at all times. It’s not a paranoid look he gives, just stoic and considered, a kind of salt-of-the-earth demeanor.

Glenn is deeply personable, though, in a way the Deep South has surely bred, every remark he makes turning into a story, and easy with a laugh that evokes a young man’s hold on the world.

After Glenn told his story in The Times last month, several readers were compelled to lend a hand.

They made monetary donations, placed phone calls on Glenn’s behalf, advised him on what resources were available and helped connect him to groups that provide assistance.

“A lot of times, people don’t get access to the information they need,” Glenn said, hoping his experience can serve as a reminder that others face similar challenges. “That got the ball rolling …”

Glenn was soon signing a lease on a subsidized apartment twice as large as his old place.

“It’s a huge relief from all that stress,” he said.

Late last week, Glenn finished moving into the Church Street Manor complex, located across Jesse Jewell Parkway from the Northeast Georgia Medical Center. He hopes to receive a hospital bed from the VA so that he can finally end years of sleeping on a recliner.

“A lot of people put word out about the situation I was in,” Glenn said. “The response has been … overwhelming.”

A few men from Glenn’s church, members of a motorcycle ministry, helped load his belongings onto a trailer and make the move. It was a rather joyous event.

Black and white men, some dressed in leather vests, one in a T-shirt that bore the Rebel flag, together on the job.

“It’s good to see people still care,” one of them said.

Perhaps it’s the least anyone could do, but Roseberry-Odom wonders if moments like this last only so long as the spotlight shines.

“I could go on and on about the injustices to our veterans, but no one really listens and more don't care,” she said. “This story about Willie will be forgotten and very few people will care in a short period of time ... and that is truly an injustice.”

Inherit the world

Glenn’s younger brother had been in and out of trouble since elementary school.

Lord knows, he was no angel himself, Glenn said. But he stayed focused on work. And the church kept him coming back to his faith time and time again.

The two brothers were only a couple years apart in age, and their relationship ebbed and flowed like so many family relations.

Glenn said his younger brother had been trying to reconnect with him in recent months following a jail stint.

When word got out that Glenn needed a place to relocate, his younger brother wasted no more time, showing up to move the last of Glenn’s belongings — a television, some tools and chairs.

“He got to me, no matter what,” Glenn said.

The brothers spent the next day reminiscing on their lives. They had always shared a special bond, and now they were looking out for each other like old times.

After a quick errand early last Friday afternoon, Glenn returned to his new home and found his younger brother dead inside. He had been sick for a while, Glenn said, complaining of chest pains and reeling from the death of his own daughter.

It’s hard not to see fate at work after the fact. Perhaps it’s a way for our minds to manage loss.

Glenn said his younger brother looked almost content, like he had passed in his sleep having finished what he needed.

Still, Glenn’s whole body shook steadily for hours. He only settled on the courage needed to go back inside his new home once dusk fell. And two days later he awoke from a dream realizing he’d been forgetting to take his own medication.

“It’s harder to accept than it is to understand,” he said of his brother’s passing.

Change is the most certain thing of all

The demand for affordable housing far exceeds supply in Gainesville, where about 28 percent of residents live below the poverty level, compared with a statewide average of just 17.4 percent.

The city already has a cap on the number of public housing units allowed, set at 500.

And Church Street Manor’s days are numbered.

“I don’t know how long I’m going to be here,” Glenn said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to be here.”

Though nothing is immediate, Frank Norton Jr., CEO and chairman of The Norton Agency, a Gainesville-based real estate firm, has said the property, subsidized by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, will be put to an “alternative” use in the coming years.

Norton has conducted a study for the local Housing Authority that revealed the city could support about double the amount of affordable and government-subsidized units currently available, reflecting a national trend.

A recent Nielsen survey of households found that about 40 million Americans spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, which exceeds a federal standard that caps rent at that rate for residents in public housing.

And in-town living is critical for low-income people who mostly rely on public transportation and easy access to health care centers, grocery stores and jobs.

Renters are a huge segment of the city’s resident population. For example, just 35 percent of homes in Gainesville are owner-occupied.

Addressing issues of housing and poverty, however, cannot be left solely to government and nonprofits, said Frank Waggoner, a longtime Gainesville resident and retired dentist.

“My only hope out of all this is that people will recognize that we do have need and we don’t have to always have agencies and organizations … individuals are very important,” Waggoner said.

Waggoner reached out to Glenn thinking he saw the man in his own reflection.

“I’m not a big part of it,” he said. “I did some small things. Why I did it? It’s my Christian teaching.”

Change comes in many forms, big and small, short-tempered and long-lived.

And so it’s in the seemingly unremarkable moments of life — running into friends on the street, singing a chorus in church, company for dinner — that Glenn now finds the greatest solace.

“Sometimes it’s as easy as conversation,” he said. “Conversation helps a lot. We got to look out for each other.”


How to help

Local real estate professional Debbie Roseberry-Odom has set up a GoFundMe account, an online platform that accepts donations, to raise money for Willie Glenn’s living expenses. 

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