That was a text from my sister-by-choice (mine, maybe not hers) Sara Capen Salomons this morning.
A little, I texted back, but I didn’t, not really. I mean, it was Easter this time last year, right? Chocolate bunnies, kids’ baskets?
But then she reminded me, Sara who has more soul than I ever will. This time last year, we couldn’t find Sal Pinna. Sal had been homeless for years — pretty much since he’d come to Connecticut in the ’90s. I’d met him in a writing class, and had following him for a story for WNPR on an innovative 100-day challenge to reduce chronic homelessness in the Hartford area.
This time last year, Sal was rattling around the streets after being kicked out of a shelter that, because their funding dried up, closed a no-freeze facility. Sal had been staying there and even though conditions weren’t awesome, it was home and he liked it and he didn’t understand why he couldn’t stay.
And he didn’t want to stay in any other shelters (he’d had run-ins at every single one), and so he was back on the streets. He couldn’t be convinced to come inside, not with texts, phone calls, or visits where we individually and as a group hounded him. So Sara brought him a big fluffy sleeping bag (that’s what people in the business call “harm reduction”) and we hoped for…well, something good.
Sal had been disappointed so many times, and so had we, his Greek chorus.
And then came Easter weekend, and Sal wasn’t answering his phone. So Team Sal started calling everyone we could think of, but no one had seen him, and I tried to get my mind around the idea that the story I was writing was going to have a really horrible ending.
This was Sal, the irascible, can-do, lovable man who loved Batman, and whose crime was bad luck and a few fistfights when he felt backed into a corner.
You know how this ends. Sal didn’t die. His battery did and so he wasn’t answered his phone because he couldn’t. And then a few weeks later we were all hugging on a Hartford street corner because through that 100-day challenge, Sal got an apartment.
And then we were all meeting for doughnuts in his mostly-bare apartment (though through the good work of Sara, furniture came pretty quickly) where he leaned his battered backpack in a corner to remind himself, he said, of where he’d been.
Sal is still housed. He just signed another year’s lease. Connecticut has effectively ended homelessness among veterans, both those who have been homeless for a long time, and those who haven’t. Dedicated people are building an emergency response system where the incidences of homelessness are brief, and non-reoccurring. And I’ve been on the front row, watching it all.
This morning, I texted Sal about last Easter, and he answered, “Well, my phone is alive as well as I.” So I texted back that he was a lovable asshole, to which he texted, “You’re welcome.”
So Happy Easter. Happy everything. Thinking back on where we are with our most vulnerable residents in Connecticut, it really is a good Friday.