First Night In The Liberty Home

Keith Howard | Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Just spent the first night in the Liberty Home. A few observations:

  • Twenty-nine degrees lying in a sleeping bag on a camp cot 18 inches off the ground is significantly colder than that same temperature taking Lucy for a walk. I went to sleep at around nine, woke up at one or so and again at three and five. Each time, I was able to get out of bed, fire up the propane heater and take the chill off the building and me, then kill the heat and go back to sleep.
  • Because the heater is an open flame and has just low and high settings (no thermostat), I didn’t want to sleep with it on. Perishing in a fire at sea would be tragic but story-worthy—to burn up 100 feet from Liberty House would pass seamlessly through tragedy and into farce.
  • Thanks to my twelve-step experience, I was able to focus on gratitude instead of cold. I am extraordinarily grateful to have a heater to turn on—an option most Liberty House customers don’t have.
    • Note: There is no editor, so “Ed. Note” is a literary device I will use to offer information.
    • Note: Throughout, I will be referring to various groups of people. When necessary (or, honestly, when I think of it), I’ll try to offer glossary notes:
      • Liberty House Customers: Those folks, mainly but not all homeless, who come to Liberty House daily to get food or clothing or a cup of coffee. Many customers live in the woods, wither down by the river, on islands or by the railroad tracks. In the 30s or 40s, they might have been called hoboes, although I think that implies moving from place to place by train. These folks are mainly as mobile as a discarded refrigerator; many of them are active alcoholics, whose need for drink and desire for the ease and comfort it offers keep them from seeking sobriety. Some of them are sex offenders about which I’m sure I will write more as time progresses. For now, I’ll just say they are the Untouchables of our culture—doomed to live on the margins outside the caste system.
      • Liberty House Residents—Liberty House has 10 beds for formerly homeless veterans. Residents typically stay between one and six months, and are working toward re-entry into mainstream society. Residents, past, present and future, are the hoped-for beneficiaries of the Liberty Homes Project.

Although I never lived at Liberty House, I did, when first leaving the streets, live in a similar transitional facility. For now, I try to help make Liberty House as human a place as possible, a humanity lacking in some facilities.

Lucy the Wonder Dog woke up this morning stiff and, I suspect, sore. She’s used to having a couch to herself in a relatively warm living room. Last night she was reduced to sleeping on a towel (fluffy and dry, although that’s easy for me to say) that provided little to no comfort or warmth. Lucy is too much a lady to complain; still, she deserves better. Today, I will bring one of her cushions from what is still our home, and give her a bit of ease tonight.

Dan D., a resident with a background in hotel project management, has put together a spreadsheet for tracking progress on turning the icebox into a home. Those of us who think in circles and squiggles need straight-line visionaries. Dan also has light construction experience, which I lack completely. In fact, as a straight, white, veteran in my fifties, I am in the bottom five percent of handyman ability and experience. I have never made a treehouse on my own, put up a shelf or installed a door. Although my own father completed our house himself, I managed to avoid exposure to any such worthwhile skills. The Liberty Home Project, then, offers me a chance to re-connect with a past I never knew.
A Liberty Home outside view

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