“There was no more time for feeling sorry for myself,” Ronnie Coats of Orlando lamented. “That would have to come later. I had to kick into survival mode. I had about $50, a weeks wardrobe and my computer. Not enough for a hotel, so I went online looking for homeless shelters.”
Coats was on the verge of homelessness. He had exhausted all of his resources and did not know where to turn to next. At 56, the options began to seem hopeless and he never at the time saw homelessness coming.
Coats was born in Fairbanks, Alaska, but the family moved to Goldsboro, North Carolina about a year later. His father served in the US Air Force and was relocated often. In fact, Coats had been to every state in the country except Hawaii by the time he was in high school.
“My childhood left me with considerable abandonment issues and an overwhelming need to be loved,” Coats explained, He was in constant fear of failing in school and whatever else he tried, His father was a violent man and Coats was scared what his father might do to him.
“I made it a point never to give him an excuse to let his anger turn violent,” Coats said. “I spent as much time away from my family growing up as possible.”
Because of these frequent moves, Coats had to adapt and learned to make friends quickly. As a result, he had trouble creating long-lasting relationships. When he found himself in times of loneliness, he turned to books. Biographies of others were of particular interest to him like Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. He also enjoyed action-adventure stories.
At the age of fourteen, he became involved with The Boy Scouts of America. “This was probably the single greatest decision of my life up to that time. I finally had some positive role models for my life,” Coats admitted.
The church the Boy Scout troop met at was a small branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. “The Mormons, as they were known,” Coats explained, “were a complex religion that appealed to my intellectual nature. A nature that developed thanks to my brother, who was well educated in the areas of math, science and philosophy.”
Coats feels that one of the most useful tools he learned from following the Mormon traditions was is ability to communicate well. He said there is no regular pastor at the church so they rely on members of the congregation to “talks” at the meetings.”Consequently,” he admitted, “my natural loquaciousness took over and by the time I was 16 - I was entering in public speaking contests and have been competing ever since.”
Coats was comfortable in communications and began working for small newspapers and ad agencies. “ I had developed a love for media, any way to get the message out,” Coats said. “I just wasn’t sure what my particular message was. So I became adept at getting 'other peoples' messages out.”
He was able to land a stable position with Middle Tennessee News Bureau of Gannett Publishing enjoying all aspects of the newspaper industry including writing and journalism. Things were looking good for Coats and his wife even reconciled after a three year divorce.
But it was not the same. “I had started to feeling ill just before she had returned,” Coats admitted.. “I would get grumpy for no apparent reason and blame it on not feeling good.”
Then one day, Coats recalls, “I let my temper get the best of me and responded to one of my editor’s verbal tirades with one of my own. It cost me the best job I ever had.” He lost his job and was unemployed for about 6 months when he realized depression had taken over part of his life. There was trouble at home and his wife kids eventually all left the home leaving Coats alone.
“I have had abandonment issues stemming from my childhood,” Coats revealed. “My wife and children turning their back on me was the catalyst for a series of bad choices that led me to returning to Florida, hooking up with the wrong people and going to prison for seven years for something that I did not do.”
Coats completed his sentence in 2010 only to discover he had contracted MRSA while in prison. He didn't seek medical attention until it was almost too late since he didn't have health insurance. He had thought he was suffering from lower back pain but he later learned he had an abscess on his spine that resulted from the MRSA infection. He was hospitalized for almost a month. That was followed by several subsequent trips to the hospital over the next 4 years.
He was living with his new girlfriend, Sandee, in Orlando along with her ailing mother. He had been able to collect unemployment, but he lost his request for an extension and was left with no income whatsoever.
Then his girlfriend decided to move to Jacksonville with her sister. She said she couldn't handle the financial burden of caring for her mother and Coats while caring for herself at the same time.
I was broken up, to say the least,” Coats admitted. “She was the first person in my life that ever loved me unconditionally.”
“I had already lost my job, my apartment, my car and a good deal of my self-esteem,” Coats said “Now, all of a sudden, I was faced with losing my place to live, what I thought was the love of my life and finally my dog.”
“From this point on began one of the most fascinating and character developing times of my life,” Coats admitted. “After a couple of days of feeling betrayed and once again, abandoned, I pulled up my boot straps and started to face the reality; I was going to be homeless.”
Living on the streets was much different than Coats has expected. “I had survived the 7 years in prison so, I had a confidence I could survive the street,” he explained. “Little did I realize the street was much more difficult than prison. I had to rely much more on my survival instincts.” So he looked to the established shelters hoping he could settle into a more comfortable pattern.
Coats prefers the Orlando Union Rescue Mission from a lean list of homeless shelters in Orlando. And while he has spent the last 9 weeks at Adventist Care Center Courtland, he is working on ways to rebuild his life and get back on the road that will allow him to do what he loves the most – communications.
“I have always been fascinated with communications,” Coats said. “My stint in prison, and my issues with homelessness, caused me to fall behind in knowledge and expertise. I am still catching up but, it's coming along.”
“The public needs to know the truth about us [the homeless],” Coats said. “That we are not monsters, just people trying to survive a harsh environment.”