BRADENTON -- The homeless are often overlooked and misunderstood.
One Bradenton couple is working hard to change the perception of the homeless and give them the help and hope they need to get their lives back on track.
"Now there is a reason to wake up in the morning," said David Wortman, just one of the people who have been impacted by Downtown, a ministry of Bayside Community Church. "It is easier when you are not on the sidewalk."
Wortman is not the typical face people put on homeless. The 13-year veteran of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office got divorced, lost his job and found himself living
on the streets following the housing crash.
"It was kind of embarrassing for me but everything happens for a reason," Wortman said. "Now I get to spread what I know, and you need people like that."
Downtown is run by Christine Monroe-Loomes and Ian Loomes. The husband-and-wife duo had been involved in outreach at Bayside when they created the ministry.
"We knew God was calling us to do something a little different," she said. "So we prayed."
After going through the leadership process at Bayside, missions and outreach director Pastor Guy Breading assigned the couple the downtown area to minister, she said.
"As part of that ministry there was already a breakfast in place, and so we took it over," she said. "First thing we did was to change the name; there was just negative connection with the word homeless."
The Downtown ministry holds a community breakfast from 6:30-8:30 a.m. every Saturday in the parking lot of Joseph's Storehouse, 1027 9th St. W, serving breakfast to about 80 to 100 men, women and children, many of whom are homeless and some of whom are at risk of becoming homeless.
Following that breakfast, volunteers pack it all up and head over to the Solve House, 1509 Eighth Ave. W, where they serve a second breakfast, the adopt-a-block breakfast, serving the neighborhood and anyone who comes from 8:30-10:30 a.m.
Wortman is among those who has begun to give back by serving others at the breakfasts.
"He is a real example of all the work done by all the volunteers in Downtown," Monroe-Loomes said. "He is a personal witness to all that."
Rather than becoming part of the problem, Wortman said he decided to become part of the solution.
"When you give and give, things just happen," Wortman said. "You keep a positive influence everyday."
While the former deputy, who once worked as a detective, narcotics and patrol deputy, remains unemployed, he knows has somewhere to live thanks to friends he met on the street. He wears a twist tie around his finger as a symbol of the struggles he has overcome.
"To me it's a reminder of where I came from," he said. "Just because you hit bottom doesn't mean there is not a way back up."
Wortman said the guidance and support, free of judgment, he has received from the couple and their Downtown ministry have made all the difference.
"These are people they don't know, but they touch," Wortman said.
The ministry has a third weekly event, a prayer and walking event, from 6-7 p.m. every Thursday.
All this work is done by the couple in their spare time, as both are employed full time. The ministry has a small budget from the church for the breakfasts in addition to donations, but often the couple still will make up any shortages out of their own pockets.
"When Christine and Ian took over, it went to a whole other level," volunteer Cary Smith said. "Their hearts are so focused on downtown Bradenton, it blows my mind."
Smith has been volunteering serving breakfast for years and says it is always a great outreach.
"The impact that it makes, you see these people," he said. "They just need help."
The couple have a vision for the ministry, Smith said.
"Christine continues to push the envelope to see what else we can do," he said. " I like to think if only I had 10 percent of the compassionate heart that she does."
Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.