The following editorial written by L.A. Parker was posted in the Trentonian Newspaper:
A time when the homeless count
The healed cut meandered from the corner of her left eye to an area just under her left cheek, residue of an unwanted barter for alcohol and drugs.
“I was a 15-year-old in the park and partying. I enjoyed the stuff that the guy had, but then he wanted something from me that I wasn’t willing to give,” Jean said.
A broken bottle would eventually leave a scar as a constant reminder of past indiscretion. She is 42 years old now, no longer homeless, and clean and sober for one calendar year.
In recovery terms, one year away from crack or alcohol is a watermark, although staying clean remains a “just for today initiative.”
Failure could be sparked by anything that life might deliver, whether the circumstance smells like potpourri or urine.
Jean attended yesterday’s Project Homelessness Connect event at Shiloh Baptist Church, where the Rev. Darrell Armstrong and his congregation made available their multi-purpose room for numerous county agencies and hundreds of the city’s homeless and hurting.
The Shiloh event coincided with the Point In Time Count of the area’s homeless population. The impressively coiffed Jean said she got clean through Jesus.
“I never attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Never been to NA (Narcotics Anonymous), either. Just Jesus and a group of church women who helped me,” Jean said.
Like Herb Levine, executive director of Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness, my eyes filled with tears to see a room packed with people living on the edge.
Levine is a champion for people without a smooth house key or a mattress that aligns with their back and spine.
Counting the homeless offers a challenge equivalent to herding cats because you never end up with an accurate tally of those who can create a life under a bridge or rolled up in cardboard. Mary Chamberlain, a former Marine who writes grant proposals for the Rescue Mission, said many homeless refuse support.
“There are countless reasons that they won’t come in, whether it’s pride, mental illness or whatever,” Chamberlain said.
However, a large number who showed up yesterday found out about Project Homeless Connect through their own communication system, according to Tarry Truitt of the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness. “Most knew about this through word of mouth — just one homeless person passing along information to help another,” Truitt said.
Hundreds moved shoulder-to-shoulder and hip-checked their way around the room, where information, food and even haircuts were available.
Despite the sight of hundreds of people in trouble, hearts were warmed by volunteers who reached out with smiles to homeless guests.
Donte Greenfield of Clippers and Shears Hairstyling provided haircuts to anyone who slipped into his chair. “I was the only barber here last year,” Greenfield said proudly.
Susan Jones of Mercer Street Friends Food Bank stood flanked by Catholic Charities employees Julie Kimball, Allison Lech, Christina Mobarek and Stephanie Migliaccio.
They served each patron lunch without any sign of disrespect or disdain. Each tray included a plate filled with rice, vegetables, meatballs and a large scoop of sweet dignity.
A woman named Beverly from Mercer County Board of Social Services pulled me aside and whispered, “You know, many people are only one emergency away from being in crisis, even homeless.” L.A. Parker is a Trentonian award-winning columnist and reporter. Reach him at laparker@Trentonian.com.