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Man with golden voice: A great story, but does it help cause of homeless?

The Cinderella story of Ted Williams, the man with the golden voice, is bringing hard-to-find attention to the cause of the homeless. 'Homelessness is not sexy,' says a Skid Row center official.

By Staff writer / January 6, 2011

Ted Williams, the homeless man with the golden voice, now sporting a new haircut and clean clothes, shows reporters where he has been living on the north side of Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday.

Doral Chenoweth III/Columbus Dispatch/AP

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Los Angeles

The formerly homeless “golden-voiced” Ted Williams is strolling into his second act – professed to be clean and sober for more than two years and now the object of massive media attention, recipient of job and home offers, and participant in the requisite teary reunion with his mother.

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A recession-weary nation clearly loves this Cinderella story. His YouTube video has received millions of views and counting.

But is this a good thing? Does a singular case of one down-and-outer-made-good really help when funding for homeless centers nationwide is drying up and record numbers of formerly middle-class Americans are on the streets?

“Absolutely,” says Deborah Billar, vice president of development for the Weingart Center, a Los Angeles Skid Row organization that serves up to 600 homeless people. “Anything that contributes to the dialogue around this urgent problem is a good thing,” she says.

Ms. Billar points to the Steve Lopez-Nathaniel Ayers story a few years ago, depicted in the 2009 film, “The Soloist,” about a real-life classical musician who has become homeless. Actor Jamie Foxx, who portrayed the cellist Mr. Ayers, became involved with the issue of homelessness through that film, she says, and recently recorded a public service announcement for them.

“Los Angeles has the dubious distinction of being the nation’s homelessness capital,” she notes, with a homeless population of 48,000 across the LA County.

The recession has dried up all sorts of public and private funding, she says. Normally, “homelessness is not sexy,” she says, “so anything that puts this issue back into people’s conversation we welcome.”

The story has clearly hit a nerve. For good reason, says Robert Wolverton, a classics authority and professor of foreign languages at Mississippi State University.

There are familiar elements of classical narrative power, he says. The individual that society has thrown away but who goes on to triumph later in life appears in everything from myths to the Bible, he says, pointing to both the Moses and Romulus and Remus tales. In both stories, infants are placed in baskets, pushed out onto rivers and left to fend for themselves. “Of course, Moses goes on to lead a people out of captivity and Romulus and Remus found Rome.”

While few of the nation’s homeless get the chance or exposure Mr. Williams has garnered, “we care about guys like Ted Williams and the soloist because deep down inside, many of us long to have our own inner greatness discovered by the world,” says Los Angeles author and speaker BJ Gallagher via email.

Whether it’s a musical talent, a writing skill, an artistic streak, a blockbuster idea, acting talent, or some other significant attribute, we think we could benefit the world if only others would find out about it, says Ms. Gallagher, the author of “It's Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been.”

Most of us feel special in some respect and we long for others to recognize and acknowledge our unique gift, she adds. And when someone like Ted Williams is discovered, “our own hope to be discovered is rekindled. In short, we all feel like Cinderella ... we're just waiting for Fate to open a window of opportunity.”

While the Ted Williams tale is super-high-profile, less dramatic journeys back from the edge are going on all the time, says 48-year old Shalonda Sims, who has been homeless for two years after overwhelming medical bills.

Ms. Sims now lives in the Union rescue mission in downtown LA but says she sees small triumphs “all the time.” They just don’t get the kind of attention Williams has received, she says.

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