Saturday afternoon at a homeless camp: It’s the only home some know

Published 12:05 am Sunday, October 30, 2022

SALISBURY — Angela, Stephen and Joe live together like many families — Angela and Stephen, who goes by the nickname Reno, are partners, and together they take care of Angela’s dad, Joe.

They might be your neighbors, or the family you sit next to at church on Sundays.

Except they are homeless, and their “house” is a grouping of several tents, tarps, chairs and a few odds and ends they have to try to make it feel like home.

“I used to make fun of homeless people,” said Angela. “It’s horrible. I do want people to understand, not everyone who is homeless is a drunk or a druggie. Some of us are here because of financial or other situations.”

Salisbury, like just about any other community, has a homeless problem, but it’s not turning a blind eye. The city has hired a homeless liaison, Dennis Rivers, who, according to Angela, is “a gift from God. I love that man with all my heart.” She said Rivers constantly checks in and is always looking for resources, though she said even he has said the shelter is full.

“I’d love a job, but I went to McDonald’s and they told me they don’t hire homeless people, and they laughed at me,” said Angela. “I can’t wear the clothes I need to go for an interview or to work, and companies don’t want to hire us.”

She said warm clothes are always needed as winter approaches, food is another need, and a way to stay warm, “but if people really want to help, let us work. We want to.”

Angela relayed her story Saturday afternoon during a clean-up effort organized by Adam Truell and his wife, Ashely, both of whom work in the field of mental health, substance abuse and by extension with the homeless. Both are also in recovery, and have an intimate understanding of what life is like for those who do not have a permanent address.

“They don’t have a mailing address, a license, identification, services are limited, and people can be unkind because they don’t understand,” said Adam, who said his own journey was an education. “I certainly as a child did not start out saying ‘hey I think I want to be addicted to drugs and homeless when I grow up.’ No one does.”

Which is why he recoils from the idea that anyone would choose homelessness.

“I know some folks have been out here so long they have given up,” he said, “but I just do not believe this is where anyone starts out wanting to go.” Adam posted the idea for a camp clean-up on Nextdoor, the app, and while not a lot of folks showed up for the event, he did make some connections for future help, and he ended up with a carload full of donations — tents, blankets and clothing — from Felicia Martin and her church, Word of Life Family Center on Liberty Street.

Keith Newcomer, one of the volunteers who saw Adam’s post and came to help, said he was prompted by something he saw two years ago, when he watched a homeless man pick up a lunch from one of the restaurants, sit outside and share it with his dog, then when the pair began to walk, the dog’s paws on the hot pavement caused the man to lift up the dog, named Lucky, and carry him to the grass to walk.

“I realized that whatever that man’s circumstances, he has a heart big enough to care for his dog, so he can’t be a bad person,” said Newcomer. From that point, he began to look for ways to help.

Angela’s dad, Joe, is the man with toys in the grocery cart down on East Innes Street near I-85, and he is not selling the toys, he hands them out.

“If someone gives me money, I appreciate it, but that’s not what it’s about,” he said. “It’s about sharing love and seeing the smiles on children’s faces.” Joe said his faith and his family are everything to him since his wife died of cancer several years ago, and “God’s love is what it’s all about.” For Angela, losing her mother was part of what pushed her into alcoholism, “it was a coping mechanism. But I haven’t had a drink in two years. I am here because I don’t have a choice.”

Nighttime is the scariest time, she notes.

“You hear gunshots, and they’re really close,” she said. “You don’t know if they’re going to ricochet off something or just hit you by accident. And the people here are good people. They might have times when something gets the best of them, but they are still good people.” It is the rest of the world that can be cruel, she says, and the homeless do not have four walls for protection.

“If you see us, instead of saying something mean, how about offering an uplift, a word of encouragement?” she said. “We’re people after all, just like everyone else.”