A sad and vacant house, soon to become a home

The upstairs of a house being renovated to house three homeless men in Syracuse.  By day's end, the roof had new plywood and tar paper.

The upstairs of a house being renovated for three homeless men in Syracuse, NY. By day’s end, the roof had new plywood and tar paper.

When my co-workers and I arrived Friday morning to help restore a vacant, neglected house, it was hard to envision its future — a residence for three homeless men.

The house and surroundings were in awful shape. A few of us wondered why the structure, built in 1900, hadn’t been demolished.

Rescue Mission of Syracuse

The house as it looked mid-day Friday.

The roof was a mess. Some interior beams were charred from a fire. The upstairs floor had holes you could step through. Debris and dust were everywhere inside. The situation outside was worse.

But the closer we looked, and the more we worked, signs of hope emerged in this effort known as Community Build to End Homelessness.

Teams of volunteers have been working on the house, evidenced by newly framed interior rooms, new sheet metal ductwork and new plywood on parts of the roof. The three homeless men are scheduled to move in by the end of May.

One of dozens of syringes found on the property.

One of dozens of syringes found on the property.

Roofers still have to finish their grueling work, tearing off three layers of roofing and replacing rotted boards, putting on new tar paper and shingles. Windows have to be installed, and then the interior work begins — plumbing, electrical, drywall, paint.

Our crew accomplished quite a bit in less than six hours. More than a dozen of us toiled outside, hauling load after load of old roofing shingles and hoisting them into a rollaway dumpster . . . trimming overgrown bushes . . . raking wet leaves . . . picking up litter and debris, including dozens of used syringes and condoms.

The house has a long way to go, mirroring the neighborhood and the hurting segment of society that it symbolizes. (The roofers arrived Friday morning to find two men who had spent the night on the back porch. By day’s end, the rear entrance was boarded up.)

We can choose to be pessimistic about the chances for this house and its prospective inhabitants. Or we can choose to be optimistic.

Snowdrops appeared from under cover in front of the house. A symbolic sign of hope.

Snowdrops appeared from under cover in front of the house. A symbolic sign of hope.

Syracuse’s Rescue Mission, the United Way and the many volunteers and companies are turning their optimism into action. The Community Build program has already rehabbed a nearby house, now home to five men.

If that first home doesn’t work out, or this second project falls flat . . . at least they tried.

With enough hands, money and energy, it’s astounding how quickly things can improve. At one point Friday afternoon, one of the volunteers remarked on how good the grounds looked. Another noted how full the rollaway dumpster was.

There was talk among our crew of coming back another day to help.

The end of May seems optimistic, perhaps unrealistic. But this house will be a home some day. By then, the tiny snowdrop flowers blooming in the front yard will be joined by other signs of hope and beauty.

This sign says it all.

This sign says it all.




About Jim McKeever

Writer, father, runner, advocate based in Central New York.
This entry was posted in Homeless, Irish Investigations, poverty and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to A sad and vacant house, soon to become a home

  1. Ellen says:

    Thank you for everything you do Jim.


  2. Amy says:

    What a worthy project – keep up the good work and optimism. That is how great things are created.


  3. Eva says:

    Awesome job Jim! You are providing a fresh start for them and hope for the community.


  4. What a great idea Jim, I love it! How are neighbours feeling about it? Have you encountered NIMBYism? You have a good heart. ❤
    Diana xo


    • Jim McKeever says:

      Thanks, Diana … No NIMBYs at this point. The house next door is also vacant, and it’s in a mixed-use zone with businesses and parking lots. The Rescue Mission is just 150 yards or so away, which could be a mixed blessing.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jim what a fantastic project and I love the flowers growing under the trees, a sign of new growth and maybe a positive change.


  6. This is a fabulous project Jim — and what a symbol of hope and renewal, just like those flowers. I love that you’ve called it Community End to Homelessness. Very inspiring.

    thank you for much for what you do — it is through these small and big things we all make a collective difference! Much gratitude and many hugs to you.


  7. Amazing people Jim. Amazing things have already happened. And hopefully more amazing things will come of this house. You don’t talk the talk, you are motion. Thank you.


  8. markbialczak says:

    Good work, all of you, good mission, great hope for our community. Be proud, sir.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Angie Mc says:

    Privileged to read this, Jim. I worked with the homeless (women, parenting teens) before I had children. Providing shelter for the needy is a labor of love. Thank you for it.


  10. Jim … Great work to all the volunteers who are turning this neglected house into a home. Best wishes on this project to help end homelessness. May those who live there feel the love, wishes and hopes that the community has for them. 😉


  11. cat9984 says:

    The only time projects like this truly fail is if everyone loses hope.

    Liked by 1 person

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