OGDEN, Utah (ABC4) — Ogden City leaders say the homeless population is growing. However, a municipal program is working with organizations and families in the area to be proactive and find the root of the problem. This teamwork aims to get as many people as possible off the street, into a home, get back on their feet and reintegrate into society.
“You are a good guy, Ernest,” Mindy Walker said as she and Thomas kissed. The two recently became friends after their paths crossed, apparently, by fate.
“What’s best about being home?” ABC4 reporter Kade Garner asked Thomas. After a long pause, Thomas replied, “Just having that roof over your head. Get out of this cold man,” he stopped and took a deep breath and tried not to get emotional. He then added: “Meeting good friends.” He pointed to Walker and his father Gary Attebery. The three were visiting each other in Thomas’ small studio.
Ernest Thomas is no stranger to the cold. A little over three years ago, Thomas lived with his sister. He said she had been kicked out of her home. He wasn’t on the lease and had to leave too. “Bad things have happened, and you know, bad turns, bad choices sometimes,” he told ABC4. Thomas spent the next three years living as homeless.
However, these poor choices and lack of stability would change after crossing paths with Anna Davidson and Nancy Griggs. “We’re just trying to build a team, build relationships and get them through the stages, to hold them accountable to themselves, to help them live their best life,” Davidson explained. She and Griggs stood outside in an Ogden park as the snow fell. Both women are homeless services advocates with the City of Ogden Police Department.
They met Thomas about two years ago and held him accountable (to himself) until he could move into an apartment in December 2021.
“When I walked into that room, there was just the bed,” Thomas said. The room is small. The bathroom and kitchen are shared by all tenants in the building, but for the first time in three years, Thomas has a warm place to sleep and a roof over his head. He finally has a home.
In addition to the bed, Thomas had the clothes on his back and a small bag when he moved into his new home. Davidson and Griggs weren’t done helping him. They contacted a family in North Ogden to see if they could help Thomas get essentials for his flat.
The family began helping homeless people in Ogden in the summer of 2021 after learning of the increased need for services. “My wife is a performer, and she went out, and immediately she went out and started buying stuff,” Gary Attebery told ABC4. The desire to help did not stop there. Very quickly, it became a family affair. His daughters joined the fight and they created “Do Good Today”. It is not an organization but rather a community-led movement that continues to gain momentum thanks to Facebook.
“Often the issue behind homelessness is mental illness or addiction,” said Attebery’s daughter, Mindy Walker. Davidson and Griggs said the same while spending the day with ABC4. They explained that past trauma and mental health are often at the root of homelessness. Part of their job is to direct those they help to services that can meet those specific needs. As progress is made in a person’s mental health or addiction, that’s when the work begins to integrate them into society.
This is when a person can enter an apartment. When this happens, he or she will not have the necessary essentials or comfort items in a home. Do Good Today then steps in to help. When the family is introduced to someone who has just moved into their new apartment, they take note of their needs, post a wish list on social media, and wait. Walker added: “The friends we have from Do Good Today. They are right. As soon as my dad posts something that says we need something, they’re on it, and then we get this. Walker pointed to dozens of bags and boxes lined up in the driveway of her father’s house.
The garage is now filled from floor to ceiling with donations. Attebery’s daughter, Debbie Spiers, has a basement full of donated children’s clothes, and the family has a storage unit for all other donations that don’t fit in both houses. Attebery told ABC4 that when they have an apartment to furnish, the community usually responds and does so within 36 hours.
Thomas was one of the first people they met. And soon, he was one of the people they helped get furniture for the house. “They gave me a lot. Right away furnished this place,” Thomas choked. He then said, “I try not to get emotional.”
When asked if he thought the community would help him the way it did, he became emotional. From homeless services advocates who helped him get into an apartment at Do Good Today to find out what he needed, to the community who donated home essentials and creature comforts, these are all acts of compassion he did not expect from strangers. And strangers, who would become friends.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done,” he said through tears.
Do Good Today started helping the homeless last summer. The family holds “Church in the Park” on Sundays. They bring clothes, food and other goods to a park where they meet anyone who needs help. In November, they started working to furnish the houses of those who have just returned to traditional houses. Since then, they have furnished eight apartments.