A little over a week ago, I read an article in the Sacramento Bee that made me feel both sad and happy at the same time.
It was about a Veteran who had battled alcoholism. It was about a man who had been homeless up until just recently. It was about new friendships having been built. And, it was about a family reunion.
The article told of 68 year-old Richard Nary who – as the article worded it – had "… burned all his bridges."
Mr. Nary had left his home in upstate New York some 35 years ago, leaving behind his wife and five children.
After struggling with alcohol abuse for most of his life, he found himself living on the streets of Sacramento; and sleeping in a cardboard box behind a filling station.
Some folks would probably have viewed him as just another drunken bum; someone who was a lost cause and not worth helping.
Fortunately, there were some who recognized Mr. Nary for what he is: a person, a fellow human being who, although struggling with the personal demons of alcohol abuse, was nonetheless worthy of compassion.
Workers at the Buca di Beppo restaurant befriended Mr. Nary. They would offer him food and look out for his well-being as best they could. The turning point, however, came this past summer when Todd Reiners, one of the restaurant’s regular patrons, befriended Mr. Nary. And as the friendship developed, Mr. Reiners offered Mr. Nary a room in his home.
But it didn’t stop there.
Mr. Reiners took things a step further and began trying to locate Mr. Nary’s family. And as luck would have it, he found Mr. Nary’s daughter, Krista Szymborski – who, along with her husband, had been trying to track down her father for the past two years. What resulted was a reunion between father and daughter.
One thing I found of particular interest in this story were some of the things that folks who had befriended Mr. Nary had to say about him.
One gentleman, who liked talking baseball with Mr. Nary, said: "He was a very nice guy who never bothered anyone. He was respectful. Not scary or intimidating at all."
I read numerous articles about homelessness each day.
Those that highlight one or two specific homeless persons invariably have the same common thread – especially when it comes to what those who have befriended the homeless have to say: that they’re nice, that they’re respectful, that they’re caring, that they’re struggling.
To be sure, there are those homeless who are indeed unsavory characters. But the truth of the matter is that the majority of homeless are decent folk.
True, some are struggling with some sort of addiction disorder. Some have mental health related issues. Some have even brought about their homelessness as a result of their actions.
The fact remains, however, that most are simply folks who have found themselves homeless due to circumstances they could not foresee or control.
That doesn’t make them villains. It makes them victims.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless fact sheet, Why Are People Homeless?
"Two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 20-25 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty."
In addition, the fact sheet points out that homelessness continues to be an ongoing social problem because of "… stagnant or falling incomes and less secure jobs which offer fewer benefits."
The only thing which actually differentiates the housed from the homeless is a place to live.
Numerous Americans are in precarious financial situations. The only thing that keeps them from becoming homeless is just one or two paychecks. Nor would it take much to push them over the edge. A medical emergency; the loss of their job; even a cut in their work hours is enough to push many of them out of housing and onto the streets.
And what if they do find themselves homeless? Does that make them "bad" people? Will we turn a blind eye and view them a less than ourselves because of the label of homeless?
In Mr. Nary’s case, someone was able to look past the homeless exterior and see the inner person. What they discovered was a man who needed a helping hand.
That helping hand brought about a family reunion and gave Mr. Nary a second chance.
And since I’m such a softy for a happy ending let me mention a follow up article which mentioned that Mr. Nary has moved to Madison, Wisconsin to live with his daughter and her family.
There are still some family issues which have to be worked out. After all, there is a lot of water under the bridge. But they’ve made a start.
And that’s a good thing.
Update 22 April 2011:
A comment was posted, informing me that Mr. Nary has passed away from cancer. Based on the information in the comment, Mr. Nary’s passing was during the week of April 10th-16th.
May he rest in peace
– m –