Denese Humphries is focusing on her future.
After leaving her life as an alcoholic under the Queen City Parkway bridge three weeks ago, she's afraid to look back.
With help from several Gainesville ministry groups, Humphries was able to walk away. Her bags are packed, and she left Tuesday for Turning Point Hospital, a rehabilitation center in Moultrie.
"I'm nervous but excited. I've got to quit looking at the past and go on," she said Tuesday at Health Access Initiative. "Everybody has their problems, but not everybody wants to be up under there."
A Habersham County native, Humphries has faced several ups and downs with jobs, health insurance and injuries while battling an obsessive addiction to alcohol. Her latest bout put her under the bridge for the past year, with the most life-threatening aspect hitting in late January.
"I was so intoxicated. I laid up in bed for six days, not getting out of bed other than to go to the bathroom," she said. "I went to the hospital, and my red blood count was way below normal ... they said I probably would only have lived another year under there."
Humphries, 49, stayed at Northeast Georgia Medical Center's Laurelwood program for detoxification treatments, and then Loren Hildebrandt, pastor at Flat Creek Baptist Church, offered her a place to stay. Kim Smith, executive director for Health Access Initiative, gave her a place to work.
"I want to stress that all homeless people are not there because they want to be. Many are there because they have to be," she said. "I went under there last night to get some of my stuff, and one of my friends had gone to detox at Laurelwood. But does he have a place to go when he gets out? If Loren didn't give me his basement, I would have been shoved back up under there because you can't do it by yourself."
Hildebrandt first met Humphries in December when his church provided a Christmas meal to the homeless, and by the end of the month Humphries asked to escape her lifestyle. Hildebrandt helped her to get a scholarship at the Moultrie center, otherwise she'd still be under the bridge today.
"We knew we needed to get her out from under the bridge because she was killing herself," he said.
"Not everybody we work with is going to respond like Denese has so far. She'll get to a position where she can work a job and start a budget and start a new life in a place that's far from home but probably the best for her where the temptations of home aren't around either."
Humphries, who was scared of alcohol withdrawals before she entered Laurelwood, didn't think she would live through detox.
"There's no way I could have gotten out from under there if I didn't have all my angels in the community saying ‘You go girl,'" she said. "There's hope to get out. I met many people who came to help under the bridge, some I can't remember, and that's awful. That's really embarrassing."
Humphries declined to talk much about her life before the bridge or what happened when she faced cravings, health problems or painful circumstances.
"I don't want to go back that far," she said. "Don't you think we're ashamed when we walk out under that bridge? I know I am. Then what do you do? You want a warm place, which is where I'll be one day. It's going to take some time, and I've got to let go of the past and forgive myself."
Hildebrandt and his wife drove Humphries to Moultrie on Tuesday and said goodbye to the newest addition to their family.
"She's not just this person we helped. She's one of us," he said. "I've let go of a lot of preconceived ideas I had about people in this situation. I can't stand in judgment of what got people in this place because we all make poor choices, but mine haven't led to my homelessness."
Hildebrandt and several other ministries are trying help those who want to enter detox programs one-by-one, but they still need help from community members.
"I truly believe that the only way to get people out of that hole is for someone to reach down in it," he said. "We can't pull them all out at the same time, but if more people reach down, we can pull more up."