Homeless community mourns loss of leader

Homeless resident Michael Jones, 39, holds a photo Friday in memory of his "good friend" Richard "Scooter" Whiting, out at the Downtown Community Plaza. Whiting, a visible and well-known member of Gainesville's homeless population, died Friday morning in Bronson after an extended illness. Jones said that he himself has been homeless for 27 years.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 29, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 28, 2005 at 11:52 p.m.
Riding his low-slung bicycle and wearing a white cowboy hat, Richard "Scooter" Whiting was probably a familiar site for anyone who spent time in downtown Gainesville.
Described as a leader in Gainesville's homeless community, Whiting died early Friday morning at the home of a friend in Bronson after an extended illness. He was 56.
One of about 1,300 members of Gainesville's homeless community, Whiting camped in a wooded area near downtown Gainesville.
He could often be found astride his distinctive bicycle surrounded by his "street family" of fellow homeless on the city's Community Plaza.
"He was a provider," said Pat Fitzpatrick, a Gainesville homeless advocate. "He would make sure people's needs were met. Emotionally, spiritually and materially."
Though sometimes quiet, Whiting could also be a well-spoken and astute commentator when discussing the subjects that interested him, talking at length about the workings of his bicycle or the daily struggles that challenged him and his community.
Arupa Freeman, coordinator for the Home Van, which provides meals several times a week to the homeless, described Whiting as someone who had worked "enormously hard" most of his life.
He worked construction jobs to support his wife, who preceded him in death, and their six now adult children.
He served as a Marine during the Vietnam War, and his normally calm countenance was occasionally broken by anger at the treatment veterans received after the conflict, Freeman said.
Friends of Whiting's will be holding a memorial service for him at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Gainesville's Community Plaza.
"There was one thing he would always say," Fitzpatrick said. "'I'm not really homeless, the whole world's my home.'"
Jeff Adelson can be reached at (352) 374-5095 or adelsoj@ gvillesun.com.

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