Denny Hancock knows what it's like to be homeless - living on the streets, not knowing where his next meal is coming from. When he was 18, he ran away from his home in Seattle, finding himself in Los Angeles. He wanted to go home, but his pride wouldn't let him.
Hancock missed his family so much, he eventually went back to Seattle, where he found a new appreciation for the support his family provided.Years later, in 1990, Hancock founded Mamma's Hands, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping homeless men, women and children reunite with their families. The organization is based in Seattle but opened a branch in Salt Lake City last year.
One way Hancock is helping bring families together is through the Internet. On Monday, homeless people in Salt Lake City were given the opportunity to use the service as Mamma's Hands visited Pioneer Park.
Arriving from Seattle in a big white bus, Mamma's Hands volunteers canvassed Pioneer Park, inviting people to have a sandwich and a drink and to call home. Many of the volunteers were teenagers from the Seattle area who made the trip to provide the service.
Using cellular phones, the organization provides homeless people the opportunity to use phone directories on the Internet to find a loved one. The phone and the airtime are provided free of charge by AT&T Wireless Services.
"One of the best ways to help the homeless is to get them talking again with their family," Hancock said. "However, many street people only have a name and no phone number. By using the Internet phone directory access we have with our wireless phones, we can quickly connect the homeless with their relatives."
Nearly 100 homeless people took advantage of free food and the opportunity to call family members. One homeless man, who calls himself Osborne, tried contacting his mother in Missouri.
The last time Osborne talked with his mother was four years ago. He's been living in Salt Lake City for the past three years, and a lot has changed since he last spoke with her - like his new wife and a 4-month-old son, for instance.
"It's been such a long time since I talked to her," Osborne said. "She doesn't even know that I'm married and that she's a grandma. I figured she has the right to know she has a daughter-in-law and a grandson."