Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 22, 2013
SALISBURY — Leonard Wynn woke up on the cold hardwood floors in the living room of his new apartment Saturday morning.
It beats strange porches and beneath overpasses, he said.
For years, Wynn has survived as a homeless Army veteran in Salisbury.
But this morning, the 47-year-old will wake up on a twin-size bed.
His living room now furnished with chairs, a table, a simmering crock pot filled with vegetable soup and a red, white and blue Christmas tree — all of it, organizers said, the product of an “unusual friendship” between Wynn and an 18-year-old student at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.
Brandon Crouch, a first-year student at the college, met Wynn in an English class. Both are in pursuit of automotive mechanic degrees.
Crouch’s teacher, the teenager said, gave him a project on homelessness when his classmate spoke up, “Ya’ll know, I’ve been homeless for a while, right?”
“Leonard got to talking and said in the next couple of days I’ll be moving into a small little place,” Crouch recalled. “I figured with him just moving in, he probably didn’t have any money for anything so I thought it’d be nice to get him some stuff.”
As pickup trucks packed with volunteers and furniture pulled up outside Wynn’s apartment just off Fulton Street on Saturday, Wynn said he was “stunned.”
“I didn’t think he was listening,” Wynn said of Crouch, “but he heard me.”
Several of the volunteers, including Crouch and his girlfriend Amber Coe, were members of Patti Safrit’s Christian youth group at Unity Presbyterian in Woodleaf.
Crouch said he went to Safrit for advice after he found out about Wynn’s situation.
“She decided to put out a message on Facebook and we got all this,”?he said with a grin.
Safrit said she’s taken donations from people in Salisbury and as far away as a woman in Maryland.
“It’s just taken off,” she said. “We practically have his whole apartment furnished.”
She wasn’t surprised to learn of Crouch’s hopes to help his English partner, Safrit said, because of Crouch’s passion for others.
“They just struck up this unusual friendship,” she said.
One of the folks who volunteered to help was Wendy Beeker, owner of Zinc Interiors on Depot Street, who offered her shop as the donation drop point.
Beeker said she got involved after Safrit notified her of Crouch’s plan.
“It’s Patti, so when Patti calls you say, ‘Yes.’ When Patti wants to do something she’s not going to quote scripture at you and tell you how wrong you are for being different.
“She just goes out and does the thing,” Beeker said. “Everybody’s welcome and everybody’s, ya know, ‘Let’s go out and get this done.’ We put it on our Facebook page and people donated. People just want a place for it to go to. They don’t always know what to do. But if you challenge them and tell them what to do, then they’ll come through.”
Before the volunteers squeezed into Wynn’s one-bedroom apartment, the rooms stood nearly empty.
Wynn had already rolled up the blanket he uses to sleep on.
A foldable lawn chair sat across from a TV perched on a black toolbox in the middle of the largest room.
In Wynn’s bedroom, a pair of tennis shoes, four pairs of dress shoes, sandals and two pairs of Army boots sat in the corner. They were the only items in sight.
Wynn said he polished some of the shoes before the volunteers arrived. It helps him relax, he said.
“I’ve been doing that since I was probably 15,” Wynn said.
But after about an hour of hustle-and-bustle amongst the rooms, volunteers had set up his bed, drawers, side table and desk.
Smells of soup and honey baked ham filled the living room and kitchen as volunteers sang Christmas carols and urged Wynn to place a star atop a small patriotic-colored pencil Christmas tree propped up in the corner.
“Homemade soup?” Wynn said fighting back tears.
After Wynn returned from active duty in the late ’80s, he said, he and his brother got into drugs, specifically cocaine.
“When I came home from the military, my brother was already into it and I didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “He kind of introduced me to it. That became my girlfriend.”
A few years later, Wynn’s brother died of a drug overdose. Wynn continued in the Army reserves until ’97.
But by that time, he was addicted.
The drugs ruined some relationships with his family. He’s working to repair some of those immediate family connections now.
Last year Wynn sought help for his addiction, completing several programs and enrolling at the community college.
He lived on the streets, riding a bicycle most days to school.
“That’s how you know he’s there, if you see his bike around,” Crouch said.
In September, Wynn used a military check that helps veterans pay for college on three weeks of lodging at the Economy Inn.
That was the last place where he had a bed to sleep in.
“I used that money to get me a room for like three weeks,” he said. “I was able to get off the streets. I could come in at night, watch a little TV, take a bath. But then the money ran out and I was back on the streets again. But no matter what, I got up every morning and went to school.”
He recently enrolled in a program at the VA Hospital in Salisbury that placed him in the new apartment.
The recent changes, he said, will make it much easier to get away from his old lifestyle.
“In order to change I have to change me and how I think. To go for my dreams — I still want a family a wife and kids — but I can’t do that if I stay homeless and out there on the streets,” Wynn said. “I just started down this new road, so I’m very grateful for this opportunity to see what new is going coming to come about.”
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.