Putting a face on homelessness
October 7, 2008 · Updated 3:50 PM
Successful entrepreneur turned homeless man turned author recounts his journey to the bottom and the people who picked him up.
Richard LeMieux — a man who went from having three cars and a house with two hot tubs to living on the streets — is rapidly becoming a celebrity.
He’s been featured in local print publications and also on the local NPR station. He is soon headed to the east coast for a reading at New York City’s biggest bookstore and an appearance on Fox News, all for his book “Breakfast at Sally’s: One Homeless Man’s Inspirational Journey.”
Its release couldn’t have come at a more fitting time, providing a first-person narrative of a boom gone bust, illustrating, in a way, a microcosm of a nation in financial turmoil.
What’s Up sat down with LeMieux last week to talk about the book and his journey, on the first pew of the sanctuary in the place where it all began, where he launched his book tour last Friday — the Salvation Army Bremerton Corps.
“It’s an unreal experience,” the 65-year-old LeMieux said. “To go from living in your car to being the author of a book that has the potential to be on the New York Times’ Bestsellers List ... I’ve been just absolutely blessed, would be one way to put it.”
He knows he couldn’t have done it alone. Tears well up in the old man’s eyes when he ponders the people, strangers in the community, who basically saved his life, let alone helped bring this book to fruition.
Earlier in life, after 17 years as a sportswriter in Ohio, LeMieux built a successful business transcribing directories for medical centers and educational institutions in and around the Seattle area in the late 1980s, early 90s. His company’s stock climbed rapidly as business got better and better, but as the Internet came into play later in the decade, the demand for his product began to decrease.
LeMieux started losing business in chunks of 10s of thousands of dollars at a time, while holding out hope that the ship would somehow right its course.
“If you would have told me when I was 50 that I would be homeless at 55, I would’ve said you’re crazy,” he said. “When you build up a dream like that, especially your own dream, it’s hard to give that up.”
In the frenzy of success, LeMieux hadn’t built a safety net. And as he continued to hold out hope, borrowing money to cover the shortfalls, he’d eventually dug a hole of debt from which he couldn’t get out.
He lost his home, his cars, his wife and kids in a downward spiral which left him homeless and dejected on the streets of Bremerton. In a daze of depression, he found himself, at one point, looking out from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, ready to commit suicide.
But he stepped away from that ledge, made his way back to Bremerton and found salvation on Sixth Street, when he came to the Salvation Army for breakfast the day after Christmas. That day, his world changed for the better.
“I’m convinced that the world is a wonderful place and there’s no doubt about it,” LeMieux said, adding that sometimes we just need a little help to see that wonder.
“Like a little kaleidoscope sort of thing,” he added.
LeMieux’s kaleidoscope came into focus that December morning at “Sally’s” when he found a place where people truly cared for one another, dispelling his former mindset that there was no one in the world who cared.
“These people,” LeMieux said of the Salvation Army crew, led by Maj. Jim Baker and his wife Maj. Marsha Baker, and others whom he met through them. “In every case, they treated me with honor and dignity and respect when I had nothing.”
It was those people who brought him out of his life-threatening funk, and it is those people who are chronicled in his book “Breakfast at Sally’s.”
Whether or not the book becomes a bestseller, LeMieux said it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the book puts a palpable face on homelessness that isn’t one of disgust.
“When people read the book, I hope they realize that a homeless person is still a person,” LeMieux said. “They just don’t have a home.”