I met Sal a few years ago, when I first taught a class at Rabbi Donna Berman’s genius Beat of the Street Center for Creative Learning. The class was on news writing, and was meant to augment what the journalists who were or had experienced homelessness were already doing very well with Hartford’s street newspaper, Beat of the Street.
Sal let me know he wasn’t excited to be sitting in a class about news writing, but I like gruff people, so cool. Gruff people let you know where you stand. And Sal kept coming back, and he started participating, and he wrote an essay about his family and friends where each paragraph ended with, “But I don’t see them no more” that broke my heart.
Sal grew up on Long Island, and after some family tragedy he came to Connecticut to attend a rehab program. He first came into contact with homeless services through Joe the Barber (love that guy), who talked him into coming into a shelter from whatever bridge he was sleeping under at the time. Joe cuts hair in Hartford’s Bushnell Park every Wednesday, and Sal had wandered over to get a trim.
Sal’s since been in several of Hartford shelters, though he’d like a home of his own with a door he can lock. He’d like to get up when he wants, get a job, have a girlfriend. He’s 52. It’s time, he says.
Yesterday, I texted Sal to make sure he wouldn’t be outside trying to brave the elements. Sal’s tough but Connecticut’s recent weather is tougher. Gov. Dannel Malloy activated the state’s severe weather protocol, which means people staying in shelters can stay inside all day, rather than be moved out during the day as they usually are.
As you can see, Sal and I have a lively conversation going. I’d called him a goober because he’d just called me “mom,” and that annoys me. I’m just three years older than him, and I’m fundamentalist-literal.
I’m working on a story for WNPR about an upcoming 100-day challenge initiative meant to alleviate chronic homelessness in the Hartford area, and I’ll be following Sal around to see how he fares. The thing is, this all takes on a completely different hue when you know some of the people involved. Sal’s not the only person I know who’s outside. This is personal. I don’t know if that makes you more effective as an advocate, or less. I’m hoping it’s more.
I’m glad to see, he will. Tell Sal I said, “Hi” and “Ditto on staying inside”. It’s going down to zero tonight! (Though he probably won’t remember me.). And calling you Mom, means he knows you care.
I am quite certain, knowing who you want inside, when it’s personal, makes you a better, more passionate advocate. Let me know if I can help.
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