Yesterday, listeners to WNPR’s “Where We Live” heard Sara Salomons, Journey Home development consultant and a great friend of mine, talk about recent efforts in Connecticut to end chronic homelessness. They also heard about Sal Pinna, a man I met in a class I taught some years back. He’s been homeless for 20 years, since he moved to Connecticut from his native Long Island.
Sal’s a good guy who is living with diabetes and developmental issues and a raft of other challenges that, added up, make getting through a regular, boring day a struggle, never mind a day spent homeless. Sal’s also facing a raft of forms he must fill out before he gets on a housing list, and Sal’s not the kind of person to whom you can hand a form and say “Go take care of this.” Sal needs guidance. He needs a caseworker — and not one that, as did his last one — deals with 59 other Sals. I walked him to the Social Security office a few weeks back so he could get a replacement card. It was his fourth or fifth time there, he said. This time, it worked. He did finally get one, and up top is photographic proof.
The night before Sara and I were on the radio, Sal slept outside. The no-freeze shelter where he was sleeping was closed for the season, and 50 residents were out on the street. It’s a matter of funding. Sal showed up to a housing and homeless advocacy day event at the State Capitol to try to speak up for himself, and then he spent the night outdoors.
And then he spent the next night — last night — outdoors, too.
Yesterday, a mutual friend called to say that Sal was in trouble on Hartford’s Main Street. She’d run over to interrupt a police officer — who was gracious about that — to tell him that yes, Sal was angry and throwing his arms around, but Sal had issues. The police officer thanked the mutual friend, and gave him her card, and said he would look out for Sal. After multiple texts and phone calls, another friend took Sal to an organization where a woman was waiting to help him fill out a Universal Housing Application.
Now think about that.
Let’s pretend we are not caring people and look at this from a financial standpoint: That police officer spent time talking to Sal. Had the situation escalated, Sal could have been arrested. Do you know how much that officer’s time and the subsequent incarceration cost you, the taxpayer?
But we all know, don’t we, that this is a stop-gap measure, that people like Sal need a permanent home, a door that locks, and all the services necessary. Again (say it with me): Even providing Sal with services for the rest of his life is still cheaper than ignoring him.
We can do this. We can get Sal and others housed. I know that like I know my own name. We just have to be serious about it, be willing to be creative, and be willing to connect the dots. Housing is cheaper. Housing is kinder. It’s the right thing to do.
Today is Good Friday, the day when Christians mark the crucifixion of Jesus. As horrible as was this day for Jesus, Christians are taught to focus on the beauty of the resurrection that came after, the you’re-never-going-to-believe-this-but-he-arose moment when Jesus transcended the blood, the pain, and the abandonment he suffered on the cross.
That, my friends, is a metaphor. Pray for a resurrection for Sal. Pray that he returns to what he calls a “normal life.”
And now, taking us out in song, “He Arose,” sung without a piano by the peculiar people that are my tribe, just as Jesus intended: