That’s what he called it, Sal Pinna, a man who’d been homeless for 20 years. He called the life the rest of us live a normal life, which meant — for him — a kitchen and a television and a door he could lock behind him. Oh, and a television not ruled by other shelter guests, but by him, with his own remote.
“When am I going to have my normal life?” he’d ask me, and I didn’t know enough to tell him “April 23, dude. You’ll get it April 23.”
Through the work and dedication of some incredible people, Sal got his normal life on April 23, and I wrote about it wrote here for the Hartford Courant. The column will run Sunday, and I will get credit for housing Sal, when really, all I did was dog him for five months. The people who should get the credit are the Fabulous Sara Capen Salomons, of Journey Home, the lead agency on Greater Hartford’s 100-day challenge to end chronic homelessness; the Tireless Sarah Simonelli, of Chrysalis Center, and the Never-Say-Die Nate Fox, Center Church‘s Warburton Director of Outreach Ministries. They were the ones who helped Sal through the byzantine system to the point where he could sign a lease on a one-bedroom apartment in Hartford, and move in.
The photos were taken by Jon Olson, whom I’ve known for decades as one of the most soulful shooters, ever. He contacted me after the first few stories about Sal ran on WNPR, and asked if he could take some pictures. For free. Jon’s a freelancer, and freelancers often work for peanuts, but Jon’s work is at a level where the non-profit organizations involved in the 100-day challenge couldn’t afford him. He’s that good. When I told him he was nuts, he replied that he and his son, Milo, volunteer to make sandwiches at a local shelter, and to him, this was just one more way to give back.
Sal opened right up to Jon. Sal even let Jon follow him to where he was sleeping rough — this when Sal wouldn’t tell me squat, and I knew Sal longer.
I hope this helps you understand that homelessness is preventable, and getting people into housing makes all the difference, for them, and for us.
One last thing. Jon took that incredible photo up top. Sara Salomons took the photo on the left, just a couple of weeks later. Different guy, right? Note that Sal, who is a dude, is holding his remote. In his normal life, he can watch what he wants to watch. In his normal life, he can sit on his charcoal gray couch and enjoy some solitude, and lock the door behind him.
One last thing, for real: I have a story running on WNPR’s “Where We Live” on Monday at 9 a.m., or thereabouts, about Sal, and about how we got here with homelessness. Call in! Heckle!