Formerly homeless, he’s now an ambassador on Orlando’s streets

in Orlando News & Events

SOURCE: Orlando Sentinel

At the edge of Lake Eola Park, David Williams stands tall like the soldier he once was. He wears gray slacks, a thick black holster with his radio and first-aid kit, and a gray shirt with a wide swath of fluorescent yellow across the front — a sort of beacon to the befuddled, lost and weary.

One of Orlando’s new crop of “ambassadors,” Williams, 58, walks the downtown district giving directions, serving as a safety escort, reporting suspicious behavior and notifying officials in The City Beautiful of anything that, well, isn’t.

He also offers guidance to the city’s homeless — a subject he knows too well.

“Out of all 17 of the resource officers, I’m the only one who has been in their shoes,” he says, spotting a worn-looking man slumped by a wall. “I was homeless for 14 years. I’ve used every resource out there.”

On a recent weekday, he hurries to the Rosalind Club, a 1916 landmark on Lake Eola’s shore, where he knows the elderly ladies who play bridge will be looking for him to help them navigate busy Rosalind Avenue.

“Hi! Hello! Are you crossing the street today?” he asks a trio of women. They smile, and one extends her arm for guidance.

“He’s just delightful,” Pat Williams, a retired nurse from Georgia, says later. “He’ll stop the traffic for us. He just takes his job so seriously. … I’ll be 84 next month, and I told him he made me want to be young all over again.”

The image of Williams now — authoritative, confident, smartly dressed in his uniform — is a stark contrast to his former life.