Homeless couple weds in outdoor ceremony

March 11th, 2010 by

BRANDON - “To be faithful in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.” Important words in any wedding ceremony.

Somehow, though, the words resonate differently when coming from the weathered lips of a homeless couple brought to the altar not only by love, but by ill health and the need for shelter.

Nan Schrack and Mark Neville have been together for 14 years, the last five of them on the streets. They lost their mobile home in Seffner when the landlord failed to pay his taxes. Neville’s job as an air conditioning mechanic dried up. And as the economy faltered, even the day labor jobs he grew to depend on disappeared.

It had been hard.

It got harder when they landed on the street with a tent and few possessions five years ago.
Today, Schrack, 53, has a brain aneurysm and emphysema. Her health is not good. Sleeping under the stars just isn’t working any more.

And Neville, 58, who says they’ve put off marrying for too many years, wants a place where he can care for her and keep her safe from the elements.

“I asked Jim (McNeil) at the church, ‘what does someone do who wants to get married, but doesn’t have any money?’ ” Neville said, just before his haircut this morning.

From there, McNeil, a church volunteer at First Presbyterian Church of Brandon who often treks up and down State Road 60 with meals and clothes for the homeless, set out to arrange a wedding.

And at 1:30 this afternoon, before a small gathering of their homeless friends who’d arrived by foot and on bicycles lugging their backpacks, the couple wed outside First Presbyterian.

An outpouring of community support brought the event together. McNeil found clothes for the couple to wear, took up a collection for a set of wedding rings and worked with Lela Lilyquist at Portomento of Hope Café to set up haircuts and a small reception. All About Beauty Salon, 109 Mason St. in Brandon, donated haircuts and a makeover for the bride.

Before too long, hopefully, the couple will also have a place to live, with running water and a roof, said Tracey Crocker, an Americorps*Vista volunteer with the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County.

By legally marrying, the couple can apply for programs that can help them get housing together, Crocker said. “A lot of the programs won’t allow you to file for one place unless you are legally married,” she explained.

Neville expected a simple five-minute ceremony at the church, where he and Schrack would exchange their vows. McNeil and Lilyquist made it into much more, Neville said.

“She’s really excited,” he said of Schrack before the ceremony. “It’s really fantastic. They made it into something different. Between the two of them, they came up with everything. They’re really going out of their way to make this like a regular thing.”

And regular weddings aren’t something homeless couples often get, Crocker said.

“Homelessness really does have a face,” she said. It’s not always like Hollywood has portrayed it – a bum lying on a piece of cardboard with a bottle of booze in his hand,” she said.

“Nobody woke up one day and said, ‘I want to be homeless.’ They have feelings and hopes and dreams just like everyone else,” said Crocker, whose job as a volunteer is to change the image of the homeless.

“And they fall in love just like everyone else.”

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