A few weeks ago I asked my homeless friend James what he thought about his upcoming 50th birthday.
“It’s just another day,” he said as he sorted returnable bottles and cans before taking them to the redemption center. “Just another day.”
James couldn’t have been more wrong. He turned 50 today; tomorrow he gets the keys to his own apartment. If there’s a better birthday present, I’d like to see it.
Thanks to the efforts of a variety of people who know and admire him, James is finally off the streets — where he’s been for more than half his life.
Today, James’ friends and supporters helped him celebrate his 50th and the beginning of a new chapter. The mayor of Syracuse, Stephanie Miner, attended the second of two gatherings held in his honor.
“I can’t believe the mayor’s here,” he said. “I’ve never met a mayor before.”
He and the mayor discussed cooking vegetables, and James joked that the next time she sees him downtown, he’ll be showing some extra pounds from eating too much birthday cake.
Yes, there was cake — two, actually, both made from scratch, including one for breakfast at Freedom of Espresso, a coffee shop whose co-owner Anna Dobbs has been helping James for years. At his second celebration of the day, James made a point to thank Dobbs, who wasn’t among the dozen or so in attendance.
“This all started with her,” he said, prompting smiles throughout the room.
James has been smiling a great deal since he transitioned into a motel two weeks ago. A few days before that, when he was sleeping outside on a bench, he had his belongings stolen — the second time in a matter of weeks.
McLaughlin had watched a recent video about James by photojournalist Kevin Rivoli, and arranged a meeting with an agency to get services for James. Things started falling into place. Tumino then helped him find the apartment and is guiding him through the transition, including working with an agency to get the apartment furnished.
James even picked out a color scheme — black furniture, red couch, white kitchen table and chairs.
It’s important, Tumino said, for people to maintain a connection with James now that he’s found housing. Volunteers from In My Father’s Kitchen will visit and help him with life skills and with situations in which he may need support.
James is ahead of the game.
He’s intelligent, respectful and sociable. He has no addictions other than cigarettes and coffee. He doesn’t panhandle, and walks several miles a day collecting returnable bottles and cans to redeem for walking-around money.
More than once during the birthday celebrations, I heard the phrase, “It takes a village.”
I also felt some momentum starting to build.
A customer at Freedom of Espresso offered to donate a piece of art for James’ apartment … a party guest noted that he and James are about the same size, and said some clothes are headed his way … co-workers of mine are asking me what else they can give (they’ve given a lot already).
And then there’s this: the notion that, as long as James thrives in this new chapter, there might be someone else on our streets who could use a village.