Derek and Janice Mullins had an arranged marriage — arranged by God, that is.
They believe a push from deity placed the future husband and wife at a Salt Lake City homeless shelter several years ago this month.
“God had a plan for us,” said Derek, 57. “He took a bad situation for us… and made us one.”
Both are Navy veterans who had lost spouses, resources, goods and homes and were fairly destitute, he said, until they met each other.
It was, they shyly agree, love at first sight.
Within three months, the couple wed, Derek said, and, eventually, got into a Veterans Affairs-provided apartment of their own in Sugar House, with $300 per month in food stamps, and Social Security benefits.
On Monday, the Mullins attended the annual picnic provided by the Salt Lake Mission for the homeless population at Pioneer Park in downtown Salt Lake City. There, they saw dozens of volunteers serve meals from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. — including juice drinks, ham and turkey sandwiches, nachos and all the trappings. The mission says it typically serves between 1,500 and 2,000 people each year during these Memorial Day picnics, but attendance was somewhat lower this year because of the weather.
A truck rolled up with free, used clothing, attracting attendees who picked through the piles. Nearby, a Christian band serenaded the crowds with songs of redemption and rebirth.
The happy couple felt at home at the party, seeing their friends from the shelter (including several of their “adopted” kin), to offer hope and support, and to stand as a witness that their situation may improve.
Neither hails from Utah, but took separate circuitous routes to get to the Beehive State.
Derek, who served as a Navy cook and chaplain, grew up in Mobile, Ala., where he studied Hebrew and Greek, he said. He was in the Navy from 1979 until 2010. His first wife died in a car accident in 2011 in Washington, after which he found his way to Utah. Bereft and alone, he landed on the streets for nearly four years.
Janice, 62, was born in Jamaica, then served from 1982 to 2007 as a surgical nurse aboard a ship, she described as “a MASH unit at sea.”
“It was all blood and gore,” she said with a shudder. “I lost too many people. Don’t want to talk about it. I still suffer from PTSD.”
After her husband died in 2009 of liver disease (“brought on by Agent Orange,” she said), Janice came to Utah to care for a distant relative. When that man passed away, his other family members kicked her out, she said, sending her into homelessness.
“We’ve put the rest of our lives,” Derek said, “in God’s hands.”
Tables, chairs and tents dotted the Salt Lake City park on this Memorial Day, with long food tables and even a booth for face painting.
Peter Scott, one of the homeless patrons, said he couldn’t call himself a “vet.”
“I was only in the Air Force for 5½ months,” said Scott, who sleeps near the Tibetan Buddhist Temple on 300 West. “I saw a guy collapse and die during basic training. I had depression and had to leave so I don’t get all the VA benefits.”
Pastor Shaun Fackrell of the Salt Lake Mission considers himself one of the success stories.
Fackrell had been living on the streets when he arrived at the Christian-based shelter in 2002. He slowly cleaned himself up and worked his way to being a pastor. He took a job at Volunteers of America but started having problems while there, including a painful divorce.
“I fell apart again,” Fackrell said Monday as he oversaw the distribution of sandwiches to those whose path he has trod himself. “It led me back to the mission.”
It meant, he said, “starting the program all over again.”