Homeless and Heartstruck

“We build our temples, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves” – Langston Hughes.

On December 18th, 2012 my life changed forever, and for the better.

As a resident manager for a lodging facility in central New Hampshire, I found myself suddenly without a job or living quarters. The owners of the property were undergoing some tough financial times, having attempted to sell, without success, for a decade. When a potential buyer came to call, they felt inclined to have me removed quickly to maintain an illusory assessment of the property’s value without my interference. I was removed by the police on trespassing charges, as was the owner’s contention, and given five minutes to vacate.

Since I was in a small town with no resources, it behooved me to re-locate to the nearest city capable of dealing with my situation. You may ask, why not stay with family, or friends? Even close family and friends have troubles they hesitate to share. This was my burden to bear, and placing it on the shoulders of ones I loved was not an option.

The most valuable tools at my disposal were a clear head, and a positive attitude. This journey can be quite devastating if not emotionally and mentally prepared. I thought of it as an adventure, a challenge brought to me in my quest to transition from a life of self service, to one of service to others.

Assistance available to the homeless is quite remarkable in Concord. There are two cold weather shelters. First Congregational, administered with great patience by directors Terry Blake and Donn Belair, provides for intoxicated individuals, or those battling substance abuse. Since these were not issues with which I had to contend, I chose to stay at South Church, which maintains a zero tolerance policy, and is compassionately run by director Bill Watson and an able and willing staff of church volunteers. Both churches provide a safe haven from catastrophe, and having a warm safe environment to sleep was essential to maintaining focus on the task ahead.

For a couple of weeks, I resided at the McKenna House, run by the Salvation Army Corps, but found the level of operational dysfunction to be a hindrance. You are given a choice of paying $10 a day, or volunteering 20 hours of community service a week in exchange for a dorm bed, and use of the shared facilities. One also must complete a chore each day, which may take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. I was pleased to volunteer, but found that even after exceeding my mandatory volunteer commitment, I was handed a bill for monies due each week. The negativity was palpable, and rather than increase my indebtedness, I returned to the cold weather shelter.

The Concord Homeless Resource Center has been an oasis in a storm. Director Marcia Sprague, and a staff of caring volunteers, are always eager to greet and assist newcomers and returning visitors alike, and often work after hours in their dedication to fulfill the needs of the homeless. Being without a vehicle, having a “one stop” resource center was invaluable to me in securing all the info I needed to carry on.

The Friendly Kitchen is run by a small but dedicated staff and a bevy of committed and friendly volunteers. Manager Jennifer Lombardo and tireless homeless advocate Hope Butterworth, have provided (with generous donations by the Concord citizenry) a welcoming meeting and dining facility for the hungry and impoverished. Having little money on hand, and refusing to apply for food stamps or panhandle, this was a perfect solution to my hunger requirements.

My knees sometime ache, and I’ve developed a spur in my heel from all the walkabouts, but currently my needs for temporary shelter, food and clothing are met. I thank you, Concord, for your hospitality, compassion and abundant resources. I look forward to warmer weather, when you may find me busking, ukulele style, at registered downtown locations.

AKA Harlan

Walk Tall – Cannonball Adderly Quintet

(Originally submitted to and rejected by The Concord Monitor, and thankfully so, as it became the genesis of this blog adventure!)