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Homeless Bradenton woman loves the choice she has made. You may have seen her at Walmart

Bradenton homeless woman shares her blessings

A 66-year-old Bradenton woman became homeless by choice in order to pursue her life's dream. She shares her blessings on life, family and love despite the hardships she's faced.
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A 66-year-old Bradenton woman became homeless by choice in order to pursue her life's dream. She shares her blessings on life, family and love despite the hardships she's faced.

If you’ve driven by the Walmart on Cortez Road, chances are you’ve seen her at some point and couldn’t help to wonder what story she may have to tell.

It’s hard to miss Dorothy Washington, 66, with her shopping cart full of belongings. The bus stops at the Walmart are her usual hangout spots and it’s almost a guarantee you’ll see a big smile on her face while she knits the time away.

“I do love knitting,” Washington said as she shaded herself from the hot sun on Tuesday afternoon.

Stop and say hello, and her smile only grows.

Washington will never ask anyone for money. In fact, she’ll rarely accept money if offered to her.

“I’ll only take it if they are persistent because I don’t want to be rude,” Washington said. “I don’t want people’s money.”

There is one exception as she burst into laughter, saying, “Unless someone wants to give a million dollars, then I’ll take a million dollars any day.”

Her laugh is even more contagious than her smile. It comes from a genuine place, a place where love for her God and her fellow man exists.

And people notice.

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Dorothy Washington made a conscious decision to become homeless in order to fulfill a dream to explore Africa. She could not afford to try paying everyday bills on a limited income. Though life on the streets is hard, her love for humanity has not been shaken. Mark Young myoung@bradenton.com

That’s why for months the Bradenton Herald has received emails and phone calls asking to find her. People who have tried to help her have walked away feeling helped after speaking with Washington. They wanted to know more about her.

When asked how Washington got into her current predicament, she quickly balked at the term.

“I don’t want to say predicament,” she said. “Predicament sounds kind of negative. I want to say, how did I end up at this point in my life. I made a conscious choice to come out on the street. I used to see street people and had an assumption they were poor and had given up, but I haven’t given up. I came onto the street to make a commitment of what I want to do in life.”

Washington’s dream is to return to Africa and hopefully enroll at the University of Florida to take a course on African studies. She doesn’t work, but has Social Security income. She can’t save for her dream and scrape by while paying the high rents in this area.

So she made a choice: To follow her dream, no matter the sacrifice.

“I want to remain an independent black woman and don’t depend on any security, but depend on myself,” she said. “To do that, I have to take back control of my finances and to say society doesn’t control me, I control society.”

It’s now been over a year since Washington made her choice. She hopes to be traveling by June, assuming she can do so either through the university or through mission work at a church that travels to Africa.

She’s been out of work since about 2009 when she had to leave work to take care of an ailing brother.

mysterious homeless woman MY photo 1.jpg
Dorothy Washington made a conscious decision to become homeless in order to fulfill a dream to explore Africa. She could not afford to try paying everyday bills on a limited income. Though life on the streets is hard, her love for humanity has not been shaken. Mark Young myoung@bradenton.com

“He got critically ill,” Washington said, perhaps the first statement she spoke without smiling. “I mean there was no hope. He never married and my mother is dead and my sister, who was a nurse, is dead. He was a disabled veteran and my mother’s son and I needed to be there for him.”

Washington’s smile returned as she said, “That expression of love, of just holding a hand and letting someone know you care makes that process better.”

Her brother passed in 2011. She has few relatives left. A native of Manatee County, Washington said her family home was torn down years ago, but it was still family land. For some time, she lived homeless on her mother’s home property where the house once stood.

“But sometimes men can be overpowering,” she said. “Some of my neighbors violated my body, so I couldn’t stay, but it was so nice being on my mother’s land.”

As far as taking money from others, Washington said she appreciates those who offer, but there are more important things to give one another.

“It’s important to love,” she said. “Every day I see the human being and the human being is the most important thing in life. It’s the human being and respect for the human being because I think a values system is most important. When you have a values system of love; when you have a values system of community; when you have a values system of respect, you can build a positive nation. A nationhood based on brotherly and sisterly love.”

Words to live by no matter what’s over your head at night.

Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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