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Looking Back : Anna, Ill., Prepares to Welcome Homeless

December 31, 1987|BETH ANN KRIER

Anna, Ill., is at it again. The tiny Frost-Belt town came to the rescue of L.A.'s homeless last January when it collected and sent 12 tons of clothing and blankets to the Fred Jordan Mission in downtown Los Angeles.

Now, some of the residents of Anna (population 5,408) are launching a town for the homeless.

Organizer Phil Bridwell, a retired Anna businessman, won't divulge the exact location of the town ("Let's not get too specific yet--they'll drive me crazy") but he says it's in southern Illinois and its first homeless family was to have moved in on Wednesday.

Bridwell believes that the town, which already has about 40 non-homeless families living in it, is the first in his knowledge ever to be dedicated to the homeless. A former developer, he and his wife, Pat, bought the town "at a bargain" and now, instead of continuing to develop it in the traditional manner, they and others in Anna want to move homeless families into its empty houses and find them jobs.

"We're just going to step out and see what happens," says Bridwell, adding that the town residents he has spoken with about the project are "very favorable" toward it.

Town in 2 Sections

Bridwell notes that the town, an unincorporated division of an Illinois county, has been laid out in two sections which will divide the homeless area from the residents. The homeless portion of the town, he says, presently includes about 125 acres of land, a 15-acre lake, 10 unoccupied homes, five unoccupied cottages, two unoccupied duplexes and a stable. At present, the town has no governing body.

To recruit homeless families for the town, representatives of The Homeless Inc. (Bridwell's nonprofit organization) contacted the Salvation Army in nearby Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Recently, the Salvation Army alerted representatives of Bridwell's group that a couple with a teen-ager had asked for $6.50 to pay a fee to connect their camper to electricity for heat. Because the Salvation Army in Cape Girardeau does not distribute cash, the family was invited to spend the night at the home of one of The Homeless Inc.'s representatives. An apartment was then rented for the family while the home they would be moving into was prepared. And Bridwell says he's already lined up work for the father of the family, a job running a computer in the parts department of a local garage.

Bridwell sees the town for the homeless as eventually providing both short- and long-term assistance. "We'd like to help them get back on their feet as soon as possible and get them back into the mainstream," he says.

Building Materials

Bridwell is also inviting large corporations to donate slightly damaged building materials for construction purposes and he hopes other contributions will be forthcoming as well. He emphasizes, however, that "the whole thing is still in the planning stages."

In the meantime, the 60 or so volunteers who helped with the first clothing and blanket drive are still riding church buses to shopping centers and encouraging people to donate to the homeless. "Since October, we've been collecting an average of 1,000 pounds of clothing and blankets a day," Bridwell reports.

His group's efforts to help the homeless have expanded widely; they sent a semi truck full of clothing and blankets to a mission in Philadelphia and a second truckload to the Fred Jordan Mission in L.A. Another load is tentatively scheduled for a Chicago institution for the homeless.

The volunteers at The Homeless Inc. no longer do their work through the auspices of Anna Heights Baptist Church or any other church. As Bridwell explains, "This needs to be totally non-denominational. We're inviting all the churches to be involved in it."

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