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.
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.
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.
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.