Rick McCrabb: Former addict was 'an angel' in Hamilton who helped people get off streets, into recovery

·3 min read

Oct. 10—For three years, Christine Birhanzl and Lawrence "Slim" Williams took bologna sandwiches to the streets and fed the needy every Sunday in Hamilton.

A rather simple and inexpensive gesture, but those sandwiches opened doors for Birhanzl and Williams and allowed them to assist the homeless and addicts, some of the most vulnerable in the city.

"He believed in this community," Birhanzl said of Williams. "He believed in recovery. He believed in second chances."

That's because Williams was born and raised in Hamilton, became addicted to drugs and needed second chances. When he talked, he spoke from experience.

Then on July 9, 2018, while receiving his three-times-a-week dialysis treatments at Mercy Health-Fairfield Hospital, Williams died in the chair.

Williams, a father of nine, was 63.

Birhanzl continued the bologna sandwich mission she started with Williams. Then she expanded the outreach and named it Saving Lives in Ministry (SLIM).

This year, through more than 3,000 volunteer hours from some of those who once were homeless or drug addicts and received assistance from Sojourner Recovery Services, hundreds of Butler County families have been served.

They have received meals, hygiene items, clothing, blankets, shoes, first-aid kits, bikes, household items and furniture.

But more than those material items, people have entered substance treatment, completed residential substance use treatment, entered a sober living facility, entered mental health treatment or received their birth certificates and IDs

"It's all about saving lives and treating people with respect and love," said Birhanzl, board president of SLIM and development director for Sojourner.

She is proud of the work and gives Williams credit.

"Slim's legacy lives on," she said.

Williams was tall and thin. When an angel needed to be placed on top of the Christmas tree at Sojourner, there was no need for a ladder with Williams around. He just lifted up a kid.

Fittingly, Perry Shazier referred to Williams, his uncle, as "an angel in the community." Shazier said his father wasn't part of his life. That role was filled by his uncle.

"He took care of us," said Shazier, 51 and a 1988 Hamilton High School graduate, from his home in Arizona. "He was a great example to his kids. He had a rough part in his life, but it ended well. He was a servant to God and he never asked for nothing in return."

In the 1980s and '90s, Shazier said his uncle got "caught up in the drug world."

Then he talked to his children and nieces and nephews about "breaking the cycle," Shazier said.

"He often said, 'These streets are not where you need to be,'" Shazier said.

Then Williams made the biggest impact in the streets. When Birhanzl and Williams convinced someone to seek drug treatment, they typically met on a street corner.

But now, thanks to donations, those meetings can take place on a park bench dedicated to Williams. The four-foot bench cost $900 and will be dedicated at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at New Life Mission, 415 Henry St. The weekly meal will be served after the dedication.

As Birhanzl talked about her friend, she remembered a story from more than three years ago. Williams introduced Birhanzl to a man he had helped years before. He said the man had a wonderful voice and asked him to sing a song.

It was "Amazing Grace."

"That's what I needed to hear," Williams told Birhanzl.

He died the next day.

"It was like he had a premonition," she said. "It was like he knew what he was doing."



WHAT: Dedication of park bench in memory of Lawrence "Slim" Williams

WHERE: New Life Mission, 415 Henry St., Hamilton

WHEN: 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16

MORE INFORMATION: https://www.slimofohioinc.com/


—7,740 hot meals served

—More than 3,000 volunteer hours were logged

—1,175 children received goody/snack bags

—240 people received hygiene bags

—149 people received clothing

—82 individuals were referred to local agencies

—62 blankets were provided to people sleeping outdoors

—44 people received shoes

SOURCE: Saving Lives in Ministry

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