By: Tom Duggan – Dec. 2015
Serving more than 1,500 meals per month and having room to shelter only 50 people per night, the Daybreak Homeless Shelter in Lawrence is in severe need of additional funding as well as a new facility.
According to Psychological Center CEO, Carina Pappalardo, the Daybreak Shelter serves 1,600 homeless people a year and has not had any significant funding increase in years. Pappalardo says that the shelter provides a safe place for the homeless, as well as food, helping them with linens, showers, and until recently, provided psychological services as well.
Pappalardo says that one of the more recent success stories is Marcial Batista. Batista is a former resident at the shelter who now comes to volunteer to help others in need and give them advice.
At 51 years old, Marcial says he is clean of drugs and alcohol now for the first time in decades. Born in Puerto Rico, he came to the United States when he was young, too young he says, for the life on the streets that awaited him.
“I used a lot of drugs for 37 years, heroin, I started with weed but then I went to heroin,” he says in a thick Spanish accent, sitting on the bench in what serves as a kitchen at the shelter.
“I came here in 1989. My mother died when I was three. My father was an alcoholic. My grandmother, when I was 9 years old, she threw me in the street. She said, ‘your father doesn’t send any money, or food.’”
“When I was 13, I went with two guys who were 18 years old, to the Bronx in NY. I got in a lot of trouble there.”
Marcial says while hooked on heroin, his life centered around criminal activities, sleeping anywhere he could, sometimes on the streets, sometimes in a shelter or an abandoned building. Eventually, he found himself in Chicago, where he joined a gang, became a drug dealer to support his habit, and stole cars. While in a gang, he explained through an interpreter, he was shot twice.
“I was living in the park, selling the drugs, robbing people, stealing cars. I was shot twice for trying to leave the gang. That’s when I thought to come to Springfield, Massachusetts. I didn’t want to die on the streets.”
Within a short period of time, Marcial says he found himself in trouble again and moved to Lawrence to try and start over. It didn’t take long, he says, before he ended up living under the bridge near Pemberton Park along the Merrimack River.
“I slept under the bridge. It’s not safe. Very dangerous. In winter, it’s very cold. I was trying to make my life better. That’s why I moved so much. I went from New York, to Chicago, then to Springfield, then I come here. I’m still living under a bridge.”
Through an interpreter, Marcial said that the main reason he came to Lawrence was because of his lifestyle using drugs, and his multiple arrests, and he believed there were services that could help him.
“I was addicted when I came to Lawrence. When I first came, I was using heroin. I was under the bridge until I found out last year about Daybreak.”
Greg Davenport, a caseworker at Daybreak, says he remembers when Marcial first showed up.
“We kept wondering who this guy was, he would come at night, and then get in his car and drive off in the morning. So, I started talking to him. What I found out was that, he had lived a very dangerous life. He didn’t want to live in fear of being killed all the time. He had been part of a gang, living in a park in Chicago, and they shot Marcial twice because he wanted out. So, he knows what it’s like not to feel safe. He knows what it’s like to live in danger every minute of every day. So, when he came here, his only concern was whether or not he could sleep for a night without being in danger. Once he knew he was safe, we were able to get him into some programs and nudge him in the right direction. But the one thing I have learned here is that they have to want it. If they don’t want recovery, if they don’t want to make their lives better, we can at least give them a safe place to sleep for the night and hope they change their minds down the road.”
DAYBREAK CHANGING LIVES
“When I came here, I received good care,” Batista says. “We have church groups coming in from local area, the word of God motivated me to change for the better. I got help with housing, food clothing, but also help to understand what to do next. How do I go on to the next step.”
“I think one of the things that is really telling about his case is that he when he first left here, he was renting a room at Windsor House on Broadway,” said Andy McMahon, Daybreak Shelter’s program director.
“He wasn’t there very long, though he ended up coming back here because it just wasn’t safe. Imagine, that a homeless shelter is safer than a rooming house but I try to discourage everyone from renting a room at a rooming house. The rooming houses are much more dangerous for people in recovery than it is here because we do not allow drugs or alcohol on the property.”
Batista says that because of Daybreak and the programs they offered, he now has his own bed and his own apartment on Washington St. in Haverhill with a roommate (who also in recovery). Batista says that some of those programs that he was afforded are no longer available because of budget cuts and hopes additional funding can be found so that those who want help can get it.
Batista also says he wants to continue volunteering to help make sure others who find themselves on the streets know they have a chance to make their lives better if they want the help.
“I use to sleep here. Now I come here from my place, I volunteer with groups at Daybreak and help people in the street. I counsel them, tell them my story. How I came to Daybreak and things got better for me.”
DOING SO MUCH WITH SO LITTLE
Asked if legislators could wave a magic wand and give them the funding they needed, Pappalardo says that what they really need is a budget increase of about $500,000.
Currently the Daybreak is put together from construction trailers. It houses 35 male beds and 12 female beds. The City of Lawrence allows them to put three mattresses on the floor, for a total capacity of 50 people staying at the shelter each night.
“We used to be able to provide vital mental health and substance abuse counseling until the outpatient counseling center had to close in July,” Pappalardo says. “Unfortunately, we are no longer providing the services from The Counseling Center and we have felt the impact on the community with an increase in the homeless population outside or in emergency rooms. The Counseling Center had 20 clinicians providing individual, family and group counseling. Losing this program was a great loss to the community and the individuals accessing the services. So, now the only services they receive are what we can offer from volunteers at the shelter or from other counseling agencies. Other agencies have long waiting lists or individuals don’t have the means of transportation to get there.”
Pappalardo says she would love to have the local representatives, senators and Lawrence city councilors come down to the shelter and see for themselves the critical need that they serve in the community. “We have seen Diana DiZoglio. She comes and she has been very helpful. We didn’t ask, she just came and asked us what we needed and how she could help.”
“It’s money yes,” adds Andy McMahan. “But, it’s also about the fact that we can’t do much with this structure. Ideally, we really need a building; a real building. We don’t own the land, it’s owned by Bob Gangi, and we pay rent. Ideally, if we had a real building, we may be able to have a couple of apartments for transition; someplace that isn’t dangerous for them. Right now, like with Marcial, most of the rooming houses around here are much more dangerous than it is here.”
“And it’s not just single guys. We have had three kids go to high school out of here. We had a woman celebrate her 79th birthday. This isn’t the place for that. The people you see here are not the image most people have in their heads. The one thing I would like people to come away from this place with is this: Nobody is very far away from ending up here. I’ve seen guys drive in with expensive cars or women who were living in pretty wealthy homes and either a divorce happens or a spouse decides to flee abuse and they come to our door.”