Profiles of Homelessness

By David M. Fitzpatrick, Of the Weekly Staff
Posted April 11, 2012, at 4:08 p.m.

Jeff: Finding a Brand New Start

Jeff was a restaurant manager for years, but after two bad seasons at a fine-dining establishment in western Maine, the restaurant abruptly closed. And Jeff’s house of cards quickly collapsed. He had to sell his home when he went bankrupt.

“And then I lost my kids, my girlfriend, my cars, my boat, my dog,” he recalled.

He’d been drinking, but it got worse. He relocated to Bangor two years ago, but things kept getting worse. Soon, he was sleeping on park benches in Pickering Square, uneasy and full of despair.

He’d avoided the homeless shelter. “I’d walked by it a million times, thinking that would never happen,” he said. Besides, he couldn’t be “one of them.”

But one night, after being soaked trying to sleep in a rainstorm, “I had lost all hope of sanity,” he said. So he went to the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter for help.

It was a long road, and along the way he got sober. He cleaned up and focused on finding a job. At 55, Jeff is an educated, intelligent guy with deep management experience, and while interviewing for a facility-management job elsewhere, the shelter offered him a job. He was astounded, but eager for the chance to return the shelter’s favors.

“I wanted to give back what they gave me, which was an incredible opportunity,” he said. “I would never have gotten to where I am now.”

Today, Jeff is a new man. He’s very happy. He lives in an apartment and has a devoted girlfriend. At the shelter, he strives to help others as he was helped.

“It’s so fulfilling,” he said. “It’s a brand-new start. It’s incredible.”

-David M. Fitzpatrick, The Weekly

Neal: The Caring People of Maine

“Neal” isn’t his real name. He’s afraid to use his real name. He fled California and a life of organized crime in 2008, but those involved with drug cartels aren’t allowed to flee. They followed him.

It sounds like a movie plot, but these things do happen. People find his story fascinating, but “There’s nothing fascinating about it, I can tell you,” he said.

Within one month, he bounced to New York City, Atlanta, Texas, St. Louis, and back to New York. In the Big Apple, the shelters were more like jails. Social-service workers were burned out and didn’t care; they were just punching clocks. He knew he had to leave.

In his travels, Neal had learned that the bigger the population, the more impersonal and uncaring people seemed to be; the smaller the population, the better people were overall. He took a bus to Portland first, and spent several weeks jumping from shelter to inpatient facility around the state before arriving in Bangor last October. He stayed at the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter for a few months, got involved with counseling, and ultimately found employment.

The facility has no drugs, no violence, and is full of people who truly care about those staying there, and that makes all the difference, he says.

“This place is awesome,” Neal said. “The whole staff is great.”

-David M. Fitzpatrick, The Weekly

Roberta: Living Life on Her Terms

I first met Roberta as she got out of a taxi at the shelter. I thought this frail, 86-year-old woman was lost, but she sweetly said, “This is the shelter, isn’t it?”

Roberta had stayed here before; nobody knew where she called home. For 20-plus years, she had called the staff of Rosie’s Place in Boston and the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter her family—well, her support; Roberta didn’t call anyone family. Although she didn’t bond emotionally with anyone, she became special to all of us here.

On a small SSI income, Roberta traveled between Florida, Boston, and Maine. She was independent, fearless, and determined. When she requested help, it was on her terms. She wanted to live alone and unbothered. She didn’t want a housing voucher, and she didn’t want case management beyond a ride to the grocery store twice a month.

Roberta suffered from severe osteoporosis and leg ulcerations which had led to hospitalizations. When she insisted on moving into an apartment alone without case management, I called DHHS. But she was oriented and capable of making her own decisions, whether we agreed with them or not. She’d still show up at the shelter when she was in need. When I’d check on her at her home, she’d barely open the door, insisting she was fine.

Roberta lived her life on her terms. She asked for assistance when she needed it. She wanted to live her life alone; that’s what made her happy. In the end, she died alone in her apartment, and was to be buried in a pauper’s grave. Whether we did it for ourselves or for Roberta, we worked with a local friar, a funeral home, and the city to get her a grave marker and have a memorial service.

We accepted Roberta for who she was and supported her right to live as she desired. She was part of our family and will forever be “home” in Bangor.

-Rowena Griffin, BAHS

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/04/11/the-weekly/profiles-of-homelessness/ printed on December 25, 2014