Seven-year trek puts spotlight on homeless

Published 8:31 am Wednesday, March 4, 2009

FRANKLIN—Motorists driving on Armory Drive on Tuesday may have spotted a mysterious figure walking down the street in an orange jumpsuit and waving an American flag.

Turns out, there’s a perfectly good explanation for it.

Kim Denmark, a Dayton, Ohio, native and former business owner, has been walking across the United States for nearly seven years in an effort to bring awareness to the plight of the homeless.

Denmark said she strives to serve as a representative and a voice of the poor to speak out about homelessness, poverty, jobs and housing.

“I was a successful business owner and had everything going for me,” she said during a brief stop at The Tidewater News on Tuesday. “But I was living a very selfish life and didn’t care about anyone else.”

Then Denmark said she had a dream that led to an epiphany.

“I had a dream that replayed a lot of the selfish tendencies I previously had over and over again in my mind,” she said. “From that dream, I realized that I should be doing more to give back to the people out there who were hurting.”

Denmark said she decided that by walking across America she would have a chance to talk to everyday Americans, get to know their struggles and bring awareness to others who might not have known that others in their communities were suffering.

“It was like God told me to just walk, and so I did,” she said.

Denmark said she has covered more than 4,000 miles and is currently on her 22nd pair of shoes. Denmark said she covers about 10 miles a day, sleeping in hotels at night. She is followed often by a security detail, but sometimes takes the road all alone.

She said she receives funding for her journey through her own personal accounts, family, friends and private sponsors who admire her cause.

In many cities, Denmark said she has had the opportunity to address mayors, activists and city council members who have vehicles to create changes in their localities.

“People need to know that they have the power to do things to help right where they are; that’s what I hope I bring to the areas I travel,” she said.

Denmark has already traveled through 15 states and Washington, D.C., including : Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

This trip makes her second through Virginia. She walked this same path a few years ago on her way to Washington to address the former president, but was turned away.

“I was told then that my efforts were appreciated, but I didn’t get a listening ear,” she said.

Still, Denmark said she was determined not to give up. On March 25, she plans to arrive in Washington, D.C., again and is hopeful she will gain an audience with President Barack Obama.

“After I was rejected the first time, I could have given up. But I decided to just keep walking and gathering information about all these Americans who are still in need,” Denmark said.

“In every community I visit, there are mothers with young children who have had their lights turned off,” she said. “There are elderly ones who have no food in their refrigerators. I am hoping to give voice to these people.”

Denmark said along her journey, she has met many Americans whose stories reflect the types of things just described. As she reaches a new town, she often spends a few days learning about the people and helping out. While there, she takes pictures and catalogs those stories.

Denmark said she believes she will be heard when those stories are numbering in the thousands.

“I understand that the administration and Congress are working on a plan to help people, but I want to tell them they need to do something now that can stop folks who might get foreclosed on or lose their jobs before the stimulus can take effect,” she said.

“I think our president will hear that.”

After all her foot travel is done, Denmark said she ultimately would like to purchase a “Homeless Hospital.” She has already identified a facility in Chicago that can hold 366 patients and plans to start raising funds to purchase the $190 million facility in June.

The facility will cater to patients suffering from mental health, alcohol and drug problems, and require physiological rehabilitation treatment.

Denmark said that after hearing about all the rich history and people of this area, she plans to stay here a few days to gather more stories for her trip to Washington.

To hear Denmark’s story or share yours, meet Denmark tonight at the Martin Luther King Center on Oak Street at 7 p.m.