No Longer Homeless — But You Need A Bed


Susan Campbell teaches at Central Connecticut State University and Manchester Community College. She is the author of "Dating Jesus: Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl" and "Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker.

This article first appeared in the Hartford Courant

Sometimes, the world can be found in a cinnamon-scented candle.

The Greater Hartford 100-day team that's seeking to cut chronic homelessness is going great guns. With a goal of housing 100 people by June 19, the team has housed 48 chronically homeless people who've been on the street for an extended period, and who have a disability. They've also found housing for 108 people who have been homeless for a shorter period of time, but desperately need stability.

And then there are 45 people poised to be housed shortly.

It's astonishing, really, how well this is going, and all credit goes to the advocates, activists and others doing the heavy lifting.

But housing people is one thing, and helping them be at home is another. When people are brought in off the streets, they are handed keys that open to an empty apartment — no dishes, no pillows, no furniture, nothing.

So earlier this spring, Sara Capen Salomons of Journey Home, the 100-day challenge's lead agency, took to the modern-day public square, Facebook, and suggested that people might want to help.

Leah Murchie and Nancy Hunt, both of West Hartford, responded immediately. Within a few days, they were matched with a man named Joe who was moving into an East Hartford apartment. Joe had been homeless for three years. His last address was a tent down on the banks of the Connecticut River.

Hunt works at the Bridge Family Center in West Hartford, where she sees how support can change a person's future. As a William Raveis Realtor, Murchie knows more than the average person about settling into a new home.

Both women have been dedicated volunteers for various causes, but those efforts tended to keep them at a professional remove. This is different.

"We have a personal connection to and real conversations with the people who we're helping," said Hunt. "We walked into an apartment where the client had nothing but a bedroll, a towel and a roll of toilet paper — and I mean nothing else. It was brutal to see that and yet he didn't mind because even though he was living in an empty apartment, he finally felt safe and protected. "

They went a little overboard accumulating stuff; friends and family were eager to help, too. They even scored some nice goods set out by the side of the road. It's amazing what people throw out.

They got Joe settled, and when Salomons called with a second client, they were ready. And that's where the cinnamon-scented candle comes in.

Their next client was Eli, a young man coming indoors after a decade of couch-surfing, shelters and sleeping under bridges. Eli was moving into a one-bedroom in the South End. He had his backpack, and that was it.

Eli calls the women "superheroes." Recently, he gave a quick tour of his Hartford apartment while dressed in a suit and tie — he was wearing rags just a month earlier, he says. The chairs are from the side of the road. He and his sister put new seats on them. The shower curtain matches the yellow bathroom walls. The dish towels are folded just so, and he has a cinnamon candle burning in a back room. More than the transition from rags to suits, that candle illustrates his transformation. Inside the little airy apartment, it smells like home.

Eli and his benefactors don't talk much about the past, how Eli became homeless. They talk more about a future that involves Eli back in college, pursuing a career in social work.

The apartment keys are going out fast and furious. Salomons, at, could use some more superheroes.

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