Janel Minish McMillan, one of the greatest souls and most bright and shining stars ever to grace our homeless community, and to rise up from it, died this past weekend, suddenly and unexpectedly. It is believed that she died from an aneurysm. For those of you who knew her, her service will be this coming Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. at Celebrations Methodist church, 9501 SW Archer Road.
Janel was a homeless alcoholic for almost ten years. When I met her she was living in a little open shed behind University Music Store on West University Avenue, with several other homeless people. The living conditions there were so terrible we called it the "black hole of Calcutta." Over the next few years I don't think I ever saw Janel sober.
I often say that I learn a lot from homeless people. One thing I learned from Janel is that only God knows what potential a human being has. I often saw Janel as a hopeless case, and one who got on my nerves considerably (not that any of us are improved by large quantities of alcohol, being Irish I can personally testify to that). Then a miracle happened.
One day Janel was in the downtown plaza and she went over to a man wearing a suit and tie - she had no idea who he was - and said, "My name is Janel and I need help." This man was the executive director of Meridian! He made a phone call and Janel went immediately into the 3 day detox program (getting someone into detox immediately in Gainesville is impossible - but not when a miracle is happening.) Two days later this man (whose name I don't know) went to the detox facility to check on Janel. She was doing well, so he enrolled her in Meridian's 30-day rehab program (another miracle - to get into this program without insurance.)
I saw Janel after she got out of Meridian. At first I didn't recognize her, and then I almost burst into tears. I had never before seen such a transformation in a human being. She was radiating light.
With the help of Gail Monahan of the Alachua County Housing Authority, Janel and her partner, Michael McMillan, got an apartment. Janel got a job. The last time I spoke with her, she was planning to enrol at Santa Fe. This was all a few years ago. During those years she worked steadily on her life and never wavered once. She and Michael joined Celebrations Methodist Church, and Janel started singing in their choir. This church became the center of their lives. They got married there, in a beautiful ceremony and Janel and Michael looked like the happiest people on earth.
After leaving the homeless community Janel used her voice to help other homeless people, and to reach out to the community. She wrote a beautiful Speaking Out Column in the Gainesville Sun, about her experiences of being a homeless alcoholic and then becoming healed. She gave testimony before the City Commission several times, speaking with total honesty about her life and telling them that homeless people can change if they are given a chance.
We are planning to plant a tree in Janel's honor. I know nothing about selecting and planting trees. I could use some guidance from the gardeners on this list about what tree to buy and how to plant it.
My life is forever enriched by having known Janel.