Posted on 22 October 2012.
Nico Stoerner, Staff Writer
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
As I sit here re-reading my interview with an amazing man, Joni Mitchell comes up on my iTunes and “Come In From the Cold” begins to play.
The irony isn’t lost on me, and I find myself reflecting upon my own life experience… of my own time struggling financially, and finding myself homeless (at ages 7, 15, and 25, respectively). This happened for numerous different reasons – the first time was the result of a lack of financial contribution from my deadbeat father and a mother who was only 15 years my senior. The second time, ironically was the result of being kicked out by that same young mother for being gay (she found my particularly sexy copy of Freshmen magazine, which I still have today). Finally, the last and most recent time I found myself homeless was only last year… finding myself overqualified/educated in an economy where personal connections and relationships offer the only opportunity for employment due to the Great Recession our elders have gifted us with.
I think of my great fortune, as well. Coming from humble beginnings, I have insisted upon only greatness and I have worked to not only hold myself to high standards, but to demand that my peers do the same. As well, I have frequently had the honor to be influenced by great individuals such as Frank Murray, the man who this is really all about. His candid recollection of his life and the effect that our very own Jerusalem House has had on him will surely move you as much as it did me – and if you were unsure whether or not you were going to “Ghosts of Hollywood,” trust me – the debate is over.
Hey Frank, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Would you mind speaking freely? Tell us your story (regarding Jerusalem House).
July of 2006 I was diagnosed with HIV. I went to the doctor originally because of uncontrollable shaking in my legs. After running several tests we decided to test for HIV and it came back positive. Eventually it became impossible stand on my legs all day to work and because I was a customer service manager for a grocery store; it was impossible to keep my job. I ended up moving back to Florida and living with my parents for some time. While seeing a doctor there, my condition began to improve and I was able to get a job. Finally back out on my own, I eventually got sick again and was unable to work. After moving out of my parents’ home our relationship became very strained and eventually I ended up homeless with nowhere to go. Finally ending up in a hospital in Central Florida, it became clear the practitioners just didn’t want to deal with me and my disease, so they offered me a bus ticket anywhere in the United States I wanted to go. I knew I had to come back to Atlanta. With nothing but the clothes on my back, I spent 9 months on our streets, but I was determined put my life back together. It took a couple months of jumping through Grady Healthcare System’s hoops, but I then obtained healthcare. During all of this I was fighting to get Social Security Disability benefits. While waiting I was able to obtain general assistance from the government… a whopping $225 a month; but fortunately that was enough to get me started in Jerusalem House’s program, and with the help of a great case manager named Ailene Gordon from Traveler’s Aid, my application was submitted.
How long were you out before you found out your status?
I was out 13 years before I was diagnosed.
So tell us, how did you come to learn about Jerusalem House?
During my hospital stay at Emory, I became friends with girl and told her my story. She took it upon herself to do some research and found Jerusalem House on the internet and brought me the information, but just having the information wasn’t enough. I was going to have to work hard get my life together to make this happen.
How has Jerusalem House affected your life? What role have they played in where you are today?
Jerusalem House has affected my life in many ways and has given me a sense of security I desperately needed. I’ve also become a more well-rounded person because of them. They have shown me how important it is to volunteer and give back to the community, so now I always make myself available to volunteer for whatever I can with their program.
From your perspective, how would you describe the volunteers and staff of Jerusalem House and the work they do?
The staff and volunteers are top notch! I always have a go to person and there is always someone willing to care for, listen to, or help me.
Do you have any advice you’d like to give to the Atlanta gay community?
Try not to have the attitude that HIV could never happen to you, I felt that way and here I am dealing with the disease today – however I will say this: Having HIV has made me a better person because I’ve learned from my experiences. It doesn’t spell the end, but it does complicate your life dramatically.
Will we be seeing you at Jerusalem House’s “Ghosts of Hollywood” this year?
In 2010 and 2011 I purchased tickets to Jerusalem House’s Halloween party because I thought that it was a good way to have a good time and to give back to a cause that is near and dear to my heart. This year, however, I have decided to volunteer – so yes, you will definitely see me there!
Jerusalem House’s “Ghosts of Hollywood”
Atlanta’s Open Bar Halloween Party for a cause
When: Friday, October 26, from 8pm to midnight.
Where: The Foundry at Puritan Mill, 916 Joseph E. Lowry Blvd NW, Atlanta GA 30318
How: Hooray for Hollywood VIP Package – $350/couple
VIP Cleopatra Ticket – $150/person
General Admission – $60
*Tickets available through www.JerusalemHouse.org/tickets or buy in person at Boy Next Door or Brushstrokes (cash only).
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