Tomorrow, I’m on WNPR’s “Where We Live” talking about the 100-day challenge to greatly reduce chronic homelessness in the Hartford area, with Nathan Fox, Hartford’s Center Church Warburton director of outreach, and one of those young movers-and-shakers who one day will rule the world — but in a good way.
The show starts at 9 a.m., though I don’t think my segment starts until 9:30 or so.
This has, up to now, been a pretty challenging series of stories. During this 100-day push, which ends June 19, I’ve been following Sal Pinna (that’s him in the picture), a Long Island native who’s been homeless for 20 years. On March 31, the Hartford no-freeze shelter where Sal had been staying was closed for the season, and Sal and 49 other men were out on the street. Although activists and advocates tried to get Sal into a shelter, Sal didn’t want to go. The most help he would accept was a sleeping bag, given to him by Sara Capen Salomons, my friend who works at Journey Home, the lead agency in this effort. Texts, emails, and phone calls were flying back and forth among people who know Sal, and they all had the same theme: What are we going to do? You can’t force someone inside.
Since then, Sal’s been sleeping rough, outdoors within site of the state Capitol. Ironic, yes? I took the picture above in a chilly rain last week. He’d been getting meals at local soup kitchens. For luck, he had put on every t-shirt and button he owns emblazoned with the symbol of his patron saint, Batman. All he wanted, he said, was a “normal” life, with a door that locks and a bed of his own. And no curfews. And control of the TV remote.
As a journalist, you must maintain professional remove from stories like this, or you will be eaten alive. I tell my journalism students that, but I’m mostly lying. I do not know the journalist worth her salt who could remove herself entirely from Sal’s predicament.
I’ve known Sal for a few years now, known his challenges and known his utter sweetness. When you know a person who is homeless by name, all the theories, all the policies, become personal. So let’s put it this way: For this story, I didn’t think it would end this way.
Listen, won’t you?