We have gotten sadly used to walking briskly by the homeless in the greater Seattle area. We turn our heads so we don't make eye contact with the scruffy-looking individuals standing on street corners holding signs that say, “Veteran. Please spare some change for food.” Or, “Sober. Need a hot meal.”
You might not always be able to spare change or a dollar bill, but you’ll never look at the homeless the same way again after you read the heart-wrenching, yet uplifting story, “Breakfast at Sally’s: One Homeless man’s inspirational Journey” by Richard LeMieux.
LeMieux, a Bremerton man who was homeless for a year and a half recently shared his inspirational story with the during a luncheon meeting at the . LeMieux is a sought after public speaker who has shared his miraculous journey in every state in the country.
LeMieux never thought he’d end up homeless. He had a wife, good friends, boats and fancy cars, drank fine wine and dined in the best restaurants. And, he had a good job. He was hired by Bill Wrigley (yes, the famous one), to move to Seattle and run one of his businesses.
As a man who had made his living as a sportscaster, he had made a name for himself, and interviewed all the greats in sports: Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Sparky Anderson, and Ken Griffey—all from his beloved Cleveland Indians, where he grew up.
He met Jack Nicklaus, John McEnroe, and Mohammed Ali—his favorite interview of all time.
But when Wrigley persuaded him to come to Seattle, he made the move and settled into his dream waterfront home.
But then things changed. The business went belly-up following a dip in the internet industry; try as he might to keep it afloat, he couldn’t. He sold the paintings, and then the cars. His wife and friends disappeared, too. And then he was evicted. A humiliating process, which left him with a single car.
The one thing he had left was Willow. A 10-pound, sweet-faced, cottony white little bichon frise, his best and only friend in the world, LeMieux said during his speech (I, for one, couldn’t keep the tears from flowing during his entire talk).
So, when it was all gone, LeMieux and Willow began sleeping in the car. Willow kept him warm and shared his food and his blankets. They were fond of church parking lots, LeMieux said in his speech.
“I have slept with all the organized religions,” he said to laughter in the crowd. “The Methodists, and the Mormons, the Catholics, and the Lutherans. The Lutherans, he said, “make a pretty great lasagna.”
And, when feelings of worthlessness finally overcame him, he left a note for “To whom it may concern.” Whoever finds Willow, he wrote, please take good care of her. She's a very sweet dog. He filled her water dish, locked the car door, and walked to the edge of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge where he planned to throw himself over the railing.
What happened next was nothing short of a miracle.
Although LeMieux admits it was unlikely on a windy day, and he was far from the car he had abandoned, he heard Willow whining and crying as she had never done before.
“Please come back,” the little dog seemed to say. “Please come back. You are my only friend in the world, too.”
And, he did.
Although LeMieux knows now that he was suffering a great depression. He didn’t know it then, but he began to learn how to ask for help and appreciate the great lessons that came from strangers.
When panhandling, he learned that some people are not only uncompassionate they are hostile as they approach the homeless. It didn’t matter. He had to keep asking for money, because he needed to keep a little gas in his car and keep finding a meal, somewhere.
He learned to accept meals from organized sources like the . He called it “Breakfast at Sally’s” where he made great friends and began to understand that everyone has a story. The meals he received he said, “were plates full of hope.”
LeMieux said he is thankful for the people that took care of him and his friends and shared their resources during his homeless period. They paid for our doctor or dentist bills when we were ill, they opened their homes and pocketbooks and hearts.
“They are performing the daily miracles,” LeMieux said.
Pat Auten, a member attended the speech, and also read his book.
“It came through clearly in his speech that he wants to put a face on homelessness and help eradicate it. Everyone left after hearing his speech having had the experience of an "aha"moment. I was sorry we couldn't have listened to him speak for a longer time,” Auten said.
“It is very hard for me to put into words how this book and Richard's speech have affected me,” she said.
Chris Spahn, a local business owner of Birthday Dreams, a company that helps homeless children attended the talk as well.
Spahn, went home after the talk, and read the book cover-to-cover. “It was really amazing. It changes the way I look at street people. I hope that he writes another book about how his family and friends disappeared. That is so hard to understand,” Spahn said.
In Renton, the performs daily miracles with the Community Supper program, held at the Salvation Army, and is organized by several area churches.
The community suppers are available four days a week, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday at 5 p.m. The meals are free of charge, and offer a warm place and the opportunity for companionship. No questions are asked. Nothing is expected from someone who comes for a meal.
Capt. James Baker from the Bremerton Salvation Army corps, said the impact of Richard's speaking engagements hava been enormously powerful.
"Richard's conversion from a wealthy, self-centered businessman to a passionate advocate for the homeless has been dramatic and thorough. He will go wherever he is invited to tell his story, even though he is often not paid a speaker's fee and still struggles to meet his expenses. He is a successful author — not in terms of financial gain but in terms to making a solid impact on behalf of the homeless. "
I don't think that I haven't given away too much of the plot of the book, just shared a few of the highlights; it really reads like a novel.
Read the book. Your life will never be the same after you do. Trust me on this one.