For the second year, Branford’s has opened its doors to the men of the New Haven-based Columbus House who participate in . From December through April, Abraham’s Tent provides an opportunity for a select group of 12 men to have safe shelter with area churches every week.
The change from the often-crowded Columbus House to the quaint environment of a church hall is a blessing to many of the participants of the Abraham’s Tent program.
Fifty-year-old Do Z (real name withheld) who has been homeless in some capacity since June 2010, said the difference between staying at Columbus House and getting to stay at a place like St. Mary’s “is the difference between wearing some else’s worn-out, smelly old boots as opposed to wearing a new pair of sneakers – you walk with a spring in your step.”
Since starting the Abraham’s Tent program in early December, Do Z has had that “spring in his step” and enjoys the freedom of working on his art as he travels from parish to parish. He’s even shared a canvas with a teenage girl who was volunteering at the Abraham’s Tent held at the Hamden-based Unitarian Society of New Haven. Together, he said, they painted a still-life which is hanging in the Hamden parish. Painting since the 80s, Do Z found his way back to art recently and said the hobby helps with his chronic pain condition.
Do Z’s chronic pain is what contributed to him becoming homeless, he said. The medical bills, he explained, were so high he had to foreclose on his Waterbury home. Do Z said he also lost two cars when he became homeless. When he was finally strong enough to leave the hospital, Do Z said he only had a near-empty bag, some clothes and the shoes on his feet to his name.
Do Z said he never thought he’d be in the place he is now. “Who expects to be homeless?” he commented. “Even children of homeless people don’t expect to be homeless.”
After completing his tour with Abraham’s Tent in the spring, Do Z is hoping he’ll finally have a more permanent place to stay and he’s focusing on working with a case manager from the Columbus House to find work – preferably something that isn’t a nine to five because his chronic pain requires that he take breaks often which can get in the way of a traditional workday.
Do Z also said he has hopes to become a volunteer like those he has met while being part of Abraham’s Tent. “It makes me want to do the same thing if I get a stable career,” he said.
One such volunteer is Alice Hines who is on the St. Mary’s Outreach Committee. She has been spending this week with Do Z and other clients and is proud to say that she arrives at the church every morning at 5:30 a.m. to make coffee and returns at 5 p.m. to get dinner started. “Everyone of the guys here is a special person,” she said.
Another client of the program, Gary Palma, 57, came to be homeless after failing to keep up the mortgage payments on his home like Do Z. He has had three long stints without a place to call home, all about 1 year in length. The end of this month will mark one year of his most recent span of having no place to stay, he explained. Having the chance to be part of Abraham’s Tent, Palma, said, “is awesome.”
Palma, a former East Haven resident, ran Palma’s Driving School as a second-generation owner before becoming homeless. Having a career is important to him and he’s now back in school at Branford Hall with sights set on a future in becoming a medical billing specialist. He is currently employed as a driving instructor. The benefit of being part of Abraham’s Tent, said Palma, is the fact that he has a quiet place to study at night opposed to being in a noisy shelter.
Having come to be homeless for a third time, Palma said the reality is tough. “I was praying not to be, but each time,” he commented, “it has made me stronger.”
This week at St. Mary’s, Palma sat with Ron Shea, Parish Business Manager to play a game cribbage. The two had just met but were enjoying the challenge of this fast-paced card game. Spending the night socializing with Palma, Shea said, “I receive more than I give. There’s something good about knowing they are on the road to better days.”
The men of Abraham’s Tent will wrap up their week at St. Mary’s this Sunday after being treated to pizza courtesy of , Thursday, and ice cream from on Sunday. They will head off to the First Presbyterian Church in New Haven next week and stop through several other parishes before heading back to Branford Feb. 13-20 when they will stay with the of Branford who is co-hosting with the . If you would like to volunteer with the First Baptist Church, please contact St. Mary’s organizers: Joan Pirtel firstname.lastname@example.org or 203.488.7602, Janyce Gilman 203.488.6458 or Alice Hines email@example.com or 203.483.8277.