The Faces of Homelessness

The best way to “see” the homeless is to view them as people. They don’t necessarily fit the mold created by Hollywood. Some could easily pass you on the street and not stand out as different from any other pedestrian. Others don’t want you to know they’re homeless for fear that they will be forced into solutions they don’t want.

Yet, when you make the attempt to see them as individuals you realize they each have their own story … why they lost their housing … how they are surviving without a home … what barriers need to be overcome for them to regain housing.

Allow us to introduce you to 15 local people who have been homeless at some point in their lives. Where they’ve been, where they’re going, and their outlook on life might surprise you.

For years CLAYTON was homeless, moving from Durham to Middletown to Meriden. Staff at Shelter Now encouraged him to call 2-1-1 to enroll in the Coordinated Access Network. "That one call ended my homelessness—for good," he said.

TUSHAR has lived in Meriden for quite some time, but lost all his money and connection to his family due to drinking, his “weak point.” Despite setbacks, he is optimistic. He says he exercises, feels 18 years old, and is willing to tackle any job (except desk work). “I am a hard worker,” he says. “I will make a new life and show my family.”

TONYA is a Program Support Supervisor for Shelter Now.

Twelve years ago Tonya was passing by Shelter Now and, on a whim, decided to put in application. Ever since, she has derived great satisfaction from her role (which depending on the day could be just about anything). “I’m very content in my place,” she says. Tonya says a large part of her job is listening first and only then providing guidance. But, she’s also been known to change diapers, mediate, clean, and round up furniture and supplies for guests moving into their own place. Overall, she says most guests depart on a positive note. Her tip? “If you need to yell,” she says, “be sure you’re smiling.”

SHEENA is a Meriden native with two girls. The three had moved around a bit, staying with friends. But, with no transportation, it was difficult for her to keep a job, always commuting from a new address. Shelter Now has connected her with training and she foresees a better future for her family. “The staff is great,” she says.

DAVID is the Director of Shelter Now.

“I love what I do,” he says. “I have been blessed and can bring that blessing to others.” “Society labels people and misjudges them,” he says.  But from long experience David knows it’s impossible to understand someone until you understand their life experiences. “All of our guests have some sort of pain in their past.” This could be from an adverse childhood experience(s), trauma, abuse, neglect, mental illness, and/or the death of a loved one, to name a few. This may cause people to question their value and self worth and unfortunately do harm to themselves.

For the record David confirms that, “No one wants to be homeless.” So, it’s important for staff to focus on helping guests move past old pains and to a new and brighter future. “We make the effort to reinforce value in self and the power within,” he says. At Shelter Now, no two days, nor two guests are the same. And, in part, that’s what drives David – he savors a fresh challenge. And, he also delights in having former guests come back to visit, check in, or even drop off supplies.

ELIZABETH had difficulty maintaining a job because of severe arthritis. She lived with her nephew for a while, and then entered Shelter Now. While there, she received some training and also began volunteering at the Salvation Army next door. She says, “Have faith. There are lots of places to get help.”

CLARENCE, originally from Hartford, cared for his ill mother round the clock. When she died, he found himself ill as well and with no place to go. He’s at Shelter Now for the time but is already looking forward to his own place. “I want to get my own place and accomplish things.” he says.

GLORIA is a life-long Middletowner. At one time she lived above the soup kitchen and says that’s where she met her ‘street family.’ She now resides at the old Middletown High School but still relies on the soup kitchen for food. “I’m very blessed,” she says.

LAUREN has been homeless for a little over a year and is currently in a shelter. She says losing her home was a defining experience in her life. “It makes you feel like your worth is gone,” she says. She is currently at Meriden’s Shelter NOW while she awaits more permanent housing.

JUAN was once employed and had a family, but loss of employment sent him in a downward spiral and to life on the streets. Today he lives at Liberty Street in Middletown and volunteers at the soup kitchen four days a week. “I feel like a different person,” he says.

JOHN has always called Middletown home and is on a first-name basis with most of the clients who eat at the soup kitchen. He sometimes works as a landscaper or at restaurants, but does not have full-time employment. “It’s stressful to be homeless and looking for work,” he says.

CHRIS knows what it’s like to be homeless even though he is now housed. His struggle with drugs and alcohol led to life on the street. Now he volunteers to cut the hair of his ‘brothers and sisters’ at St. Vincent de Paul. “Love bears all things,” he says.

LAVONNE came to Middletown to work and raise a family, but says St. Vincent de Paul has been her ‘home base’ for the last 10 years. Today, her life is ‘pretty stable’ and she looks forward to having an apartment to call her own. “We need more programs to help people with housing,” she says.

BARBARA suddenly found herself living on the street after her partner was admitted to the VA hospital. Barbara says she’s ‘here and there,’ sometimes with family, but doesn’t have a permanent place. “If it wasn’t for Saint Vincent dePaul, some people would be pretty lost,” she says.

WAYNE says he has been homeless, on and off, beginning from the time he was a child. Today he has an apartment and, due to disability, can devote all of his time to speaking to community groups about homelessness. “I thought I would always be homeless,” he says, adding, “Housing changes lives.”

JUDE has bounced back from his days on the street. He stills eats at the soup kitchen but proudly reports that he now has a job at Middlesex Hospital and a place to live. “Saint Vincent de Paul really helps a lot of people,” he say. “They put me back on my feet.”

SHKEIA is a single mom with three young children. She most recently missed out on a housing opportunity, through no fault of her own, and thanks Saint Vincent de Paul for quickly finding her a new place to live. “This is my instant family,” she says. “They care so much and really want the best for you.”

MARCELLETTE spent 30 years homeless. In 2014 she was finally matched with an apartment to call her own, a ‘scary, exciting’ experience. “This is my home and I’d never close the door on anyone,” she says, “I know what it’s like to be hungry.”

Photo essay courtesy of Lanny Nagler. © 2017 Lanny Nagler Photography.