NEW PORT RICHEY
Mike Glass has helped hundreds of homeless people in Pasco in practical ways — mobile showers, food to eat, a place to sleep. But he's discovered that the most important thing he can do is simply show them that someone cares. The alternative, he said, is "every bit as terminal as lung cancer or a bullet. They feel they're doomed." So he sits with them. He listens. He notices when they stop coming around church and goes into the woods to find them and offer some encouraging words. "That's where I feel a passion," he said.
"The things they need more than anything else is the feel that someone cares, that they are significant, and that there is hope."
As the community outreach pastor with Impact Family Ministries, Glass, 59, found religion later in his life. It's what motivates him now.
Born in Miami, he grew up in Tampa and spent some of his childhood homeless. His family lived in abandoned buildings after his father lost his job at a sausage company.
"I grew up kind of hard," he said. "I didn't want to get involved in this," he said of working with homeless people. But that would change one Thursday two years ago after he was invited to volunteer at the church. He started talking to people. "It just took that one time," he said. From then on, he saw homeless people differently.
"I was seeing them as God sees them."
Glass worked hard in high school, received a scholarship to Florida State University, then went on to be a helicopter pilot in the Air Force.
Life was good for a while. Then, at age 32, he noticed his vision starting to fade. He saw a doctor, who diagnosed him with a form of macular degeneration. He was told he'd be totally blind within three months.
"It was absolutely devastating, particularly (for) someone like me — everything that I had would come from the sweat of my brow," he said.
"I was not a believer then, but people prayed for me. I was not a pillar of faith, but they were."
Soon after, he noticed his eyesight was different, that his vision had improved a little. His doctors were amazed and couldn't explain the reversal. Glass was able to drive for most of his adult life.
Then a few years ago his vision declined again. He's now legally blind, and his 17-year-old son has to drive for him. But he doesn't let it stop him from living his life, and helping others.
"I've had so many things happen in my life, miracles one after another," he said.
Glass has six sons from his current marriage, and three children from a previous marriage.
He was the CEO of a company that designed cooling and heating systems for electronic equipment. Now retired, he devotes his time to home-schooling his children, volunteering with the homeless, and teaching a self defense class.
Most Thursday mornings he can be found at Impact Family Church, where homeless people know they can come for a shower and a meal.
He gives a 30-minute Bible message. Then breakfast is served.
His wife, Linda, is a cosmetologist and barber in Hudson, so she brings her equipment and gives free haircuts. One recent Thursday, she did 20 haircuts.
"Sometimes it's little things," Mike Glass said. "Just giving them a decent haircut raises their self esteem."
Many of them are trying to find work, or are currently working. Some you would never know were homeless just by looking at them, he said.
He also helps with the St. Jude's Homeless Veterans Resource Center. His self-defense class, called Royally Safe, is based in large part on the book of Proverbs and biblical principles, which Glass quotes from often. "I'll talk about peace being the flipside of power," he said. "Meekness is power under control. The objective is maintaining self control."
Eugene Ganaway and his wife, Susan, run the clothes closet and food pantry at the church.
"He's a good man. Passionate about what he does," Ganaway said. They've known each other five years through the church, now they minister together. "People come and talk to Mike if they have a court date. He calls to get more information … finds them tents. He knows them pretty well, so they talk to him."
Glass often goes into the woods to find the homeless and has built up their trust. At 6 feet 4 inches and 265 pounds, they affectionately refer to him as Sasquatch.
"He stepped in at a very critical time in Pasco County, when we had very few shelters for homeless men," said Eugene Williams, executive director of the Homeless Coalition of Pasco County.
"He opened up his doors at the church. He became our cold night shelter, and every night he was overflowing," Williams said. "He extends himself without any financial support. His faith has allowed him to help these people, when there are no government resources.
"It takes a leap of faith to open your doors without any funding, and then carry on without money to support your efforts. He's a real good guy."
But Glass doesn't take credit for it.
"I have a passion for the homeless — but that passion is not from me. That's something that God puts on your heart. It's not my normal self.
"God's heart is for the poor, the oppressed," Glass added. "That's where I see more presence than when I lived in affluent areas. It's a very humbling experience. I feel blessed that my children are starting to experience this."
And he feels indebted to the homeless people he knows. "They've blessed me more than I've been a blessing to them."