Florida restaurant owner is raising funds to help a homeless Navy veteran
By JODIE WAGNER | The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville | Published: January 27, 2020
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Bakhita Denegal never imagined she'd be living in her car at the age of 64.
But an unexpected medical emergency left the U.S. Navy veteran and longtime childbirth educator with no place to live after she fell behind on rent while receiving treatment.
"I never thought this would happen to me," said Denegal, who became ill last fall with blood clots in her legs and lungs and spent 17 days in two different hospitals. "I never put down anybody that I see out there on the streets, because I always look at them and think it could have been me."
For about three weeks, it was.
Denegal, a Georgia native known as "Bebe," was forced to vacate her Riviera Beach apartment in December after she was threatened with eviction for failing to pay her rent.
She lived with an acquaintance for a couple of weeks, but after things didn't work out, she packed up her belongings and moved into her 2011 Chevrolet HHR.
That is where Derrick Dorsett, CEO of the nonprofit Gods Loving Hands Feeding the Homeless, Inc., found her.
Dorsett, whose organization helps feed the homeless and provides temporary housing assistance for those who need it, was introduced to Denegal through another nonprofit that was unable to help her.
Formerly homeless himself, Dorsett hopes to raise money through his nonprofit to get Denegal out of her car and into an apartment.
"We're just trying to get her restarted so she can at least be independent again," Dorsett said. "It's just circumstances that were not her fault."
Denegal, a grandmother of three, is grateful for the support.
She has worked all her life. Following her six-year stint as an aviation storekeeper with the U.S. Navy, she worked as a corrections officer, ordained evangelist, singer, radio personality and Christian playwright.
Despite her current circumstances, she continues to work as a certified childbirth educator and veteran advocate, and hopes to help other homeless veterans find housing once she gets back on her feet.
Currently, she's staying in temporary housing while fundraising activities are underway. Her car is parked at Dorsett's house.
"Derrick is a total blessing to me," Denegal said. "For a total stranger to help me versus people that have known me for years, that's special. He's very positive. He shared his story with me. He's been where I am right now."
For Dorsett, that's all in a day's work.
He founded Gods Loving Hands Feeding the Homeless, Inc., in 2010 to help others struggling with homelessness.
Four years ago, he opened Kangaroo House Subs Breakfast Soulfood Buffet in Lake Park to help fund the nonprofit.
"Our goal is to work with other nonprofits to eradicate homelessness," Dorsett said. "We want Palm Beach County to be the first county to eradicate homelessness in the nation. If we as an organization can all come together, I think we can do it."
Kangaroo House Subs, 1400a 10th St., will host a fundraiser this week to support efforts to secure temporary housing for Denegal and a disabled homeless man.
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