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PORTSMOUTH - Glen Talon is a disabled Army veteran who has been living out of motels for the last year and a half
Portsmouth Herald - 12/30/2017
PORTSMOUTH - Glen Talon is a disabled Army veteran who has been living out of motels for the last year and a half.
Talon said his motivation to serve his country came from his father, Norman, who served in the Korean War. Talon instilled the same patriotic fervor in his son, Jason, who served in the Iraq War, but Talon himself said he has fallen on hard times following complications from surgery that left him with bone infections, leading doctors to amputate both his legs.
"I have no more money for hotels. I have been outside with the tin cup and there are very generous people who have helped me. Some kids gave me their ice cream money and a brother Marine gave me $100 once," said Talon, who spent Thursday night at the Cross Roads House homeless shelter. He escaped the cold for a night before heading to another homeless shelter in Massachusetts. "I have no transportation, so the Portsmouth police (were) gracious enough to bring me here."
Talon was one of 128 people who sought shelter at Cross Roads on Thursday night from the bitter cold, a stretch of frigid weather expected to last another week. The group included 11 families and 23 children.
"Do not stay out there. Do not risk freezing to death, it's not difficult to come in," said Talon. "(The staff) is not going to force any kinds of programs on you. Asking someone if they need help is not telling someone they need to get help."
Cross Roads Executive Director Martha Stone said the shelter's normal capacity is slightly less than 100 people. During the ongoing spell of frigid temperatures, the shelter has expanded capacity by adding bunk beds to men's and women's dorm rooms and set up cots elsewhere.
Stone said although the number of people coming in for shelter spikes when it gets cold, Cross Roads has been full nearly every night for roughly a year.
"Our winter numbers from last year never really declined because typically as the weather gets nicer we usually see fewer people here each night, but we've been above our normal capacity for 82 percent of those nights," Stone said.
"It's always a challenge to know the full scale of the unmet need," he continued. "But between the private individual donations and funding we receive from municipalities, it allows us to be able to continue to operate and that allowed us to be prepared for winter by bunking in the dorm rooms. We're facing an overflow of people beyond our normal capacity and we're trying hard not to turn anyone away and that puts a real strain on our resources."
Cross Roads has seen success with their social service programming. Of the 515 people who stayed at the shelter in 2016, she said 74 percent received case management and successfully moved into permanent housing, while 100 percent of the families in transitional programs moved into permanent housing. However, she said, because the number of people relying on Cross Roads is continuously high, the shelter cannot provide social services to the people who come in to get out of the cold.
"If an individual is really looking for help, we assign them a bed and a case manager, but right now we're just responding to the weather and getting everyone in here for safety reasons, which leaves many of them in a tenuous position because they're not coming in for services," Stone said. "If I had the money to hire another full-time case worker, we would be able to offer services to more people, but providing services to meet our own standards at this level is just not sustainable."
Dustin Puarowski said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder and is now in Cross Roads' phase two transitional programs. He is also back bartending at a restaurant in Portsmouth.
"A lot of people say they end up spending what is the worst year of their life here, and I myself hit the bottom when I was here," he said. "But the people who I've met who have helped build me back up have just been incredible and that's made it all worth it. Once you're here, you can only improve your position if you take advantage of all the help that is here. And all it took was for me to drop my pride and come in and get help."
Stone said residents like Puarowski make up part of a visible homeless population that is front and center in daily Seacoast life but would not necessarily be thought of as homeless when they interact with other people while they are working.
"These are people behind you in line for lunch, they're serving you your meal and we just don't look at them and think they could be homeless," Stone said.
Katie Mackle is a direct care staff member at the shelter and working on her degree in social work at Plymouth State University. She said the weather has drawn new faces into the shelter on a day-to-day basis.
"You see a sense of relief on their faces when they get here and they can get warm, have a meal and take a shower; just the little things that mean the world to everyone," said Mackle, a Greenland resident. "There is a big support system, not only with the staff but with the other residents, who help each other and help out around the rest of the shelter."