Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Scenes from Williams Park: 'I've had to grow up hard and fast'

ST. PETERSBURG

Kymberly Hill-William stood shivering near a bench in Williams Park just before dawn one brisk morning last week. Barely strong enough to stand, she leaned over a shopping cart containing all her worldly possessions. Her head was hung low, her eyes glazed over. Her face was blank, emotionless.

The 50-year-old epileptic said she gave birth to her first son when was 15. "Ever since then, I've had to grow up hard and fast, and I never stopped getting old," she said, exhausted from spending a cold night sleeping outside City Hall.

Minutes later Hill-William's arms locked up, her legs began convulsing, and she fell to the ground, moaning. A friend, Charles Roach Jr., 53, could only look on powerlessly as she lost control of her body and lay stiff as a board.

A passer-by had dialed 911 on a cell phone. When her seizure had finally passed, Hill-William staggered to her feet with Roach's help and hobbled away just as the paramedics arrived. The EMTs walked halfheartedly to the center of the park, watched the woman scramble away from them, and headed back toward their ambulance.

"I didn't want to go to the hospital," she later said. "I couldn't afford what they would bill me, they wouldn't do anything for me and they'd make me walk all the way back to the park. What's the point?"

This is typical of the homeless people who spend their days in Williams Park, said William "Pop" Shumate. "We all owe a couple of thousand dollars in medical bills that we'll never be able to pay off," he said. "I owe about $30,000."

When the paramedics arrived to pick up Hill-William, Shumate was the first to shoo them away, knowing she wouldn't want to go to the hospital. The white-haired, white-bearded 60-year-old is known for looking after those in the park and is respected in St. Petersburg's homeless community.

"Everybody considers me their father because I usually handle their problems," he said. Pop is well known for fixing bicycles, a chief mode of transportation for the homeless.

Hill-William said she has to spend what little money she has on antiseizure medication, Dilantin, which costs her about $120 a month.

At times she couldn't afford the pills and had to skip some 12-hour doses or miss weeks at a time.

Shumate pointed to a man who was recovering from knee surgery that left him on the streets in insurmountable debt.

Another man, Emmet Larry, was severely beaten during the civil war in his homeland of Liberia and has to undergo periodic intestinal surgeries.

Larry, who said his wife was decapitated by rebel forces and whose daughter died from cholera, has not had contact with his surviving family for more than four years.

"Sometimes people see me crying out in the park. They know it's because I'm thinking of my country," he said.

Shumate pointed out others who suffer from mental ailments they can't afford to treat so they turn to substance abuse, he said.

"People are put into situations where their memories are so horrifying that they need to use drugs or booze to ease the pain," he said. "That's how the whole vicious cycle starts."

Shumate, a Vietnam War veteran, said he graduated from the University of South Florida.

Many educated people, he said, have been left homeless because of personal problems or the sagging economy.

"Everyone is one paycheck away from being on the streets. Everyone. So if you're one paycheck away from being on the streets, what makes you different from me?"

Scenes from Williams Park: 'I've had to grow up hard and fast' 11/29/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 1, 2008 1:35pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Once 'angry' about Obamacare, Republican David Jolly came to see it as 'safety net'

    Blogs

    Former Congressman David Jolly, who ran against Obamacare in 2013, said in an interview Monday night that he now considers it a "safety net."

  2. Five children hospitalized after chlorine release at Tampa pool store

    Accidents

    Five children were sickened at a pool store north of Tampa on Monday after a cloud of chlorine was released, according to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

  3. Deputies find unidentified decomposing body in Dunedin canal

    Public Safety

    DUNEDIN — Pinellas County sheriff's deputies found an unidentified male body floating in a Dunedin canal Monday afternoon, the Sheriff's Office said.

  4. Rays acquire slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria from Marlins

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chaim Bloom said the Rays weren't necessarily in the market for a shortstop. The team has a number of those. But when the Marlins recently began shopping Adeiny Hechavarria, well, that was too much to pass up.

    Adeiny Hechavarria has emerged as one of baseball’s top defensive shortstops in the past three seasons with the Marlins.
  5. Lightning journal: Forward Yanni Gourde agrees to two-year deal

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Just three years ago, Yanni Gourde was fighting to stay in pro hockey.

    Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde celebrates after scoring against the Florida Panthers during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA108