By Ray Lenarcic

While riding with Kay down Protection Avenue on our way to breakfast with Jen and Devin at Debbie’s in New Hartford, I noticed him. He was slowly making his way through the rain, dressed in a khaki hoodie and dragging a suitcase behind him. Beneath the black baseball hat with the red lettering indicating that he was a Vietnam vet was a wrinkled face, undoubtedly belying the fact that he was younger than he looked. I thought-there goes another one walking alone to nowhere.

Who was he? What was he? Maybe once upon a time, a gung-ho man-child who upped and enlisted at 19, did a tour in ‘Nam and returned home to taunts of “baby-killer” and “loser,” got married to a childhood sweetheart, got a job, began to raise a family before those invisible wounds of that God-forsaken conflict began to take their toll. Agent Orange. PTSD. Maybe he tried unsuccessfully to get help from the VA-doctors who missed appointments-disability claims shot down time and again-stamped not applicable-pre-conditions.

Maybe he subsequently chose to take the alcohol cure to cope with the interminable nightmares and fits of rage, which found him screaming at the kids and reacting with backhands to his wife’s pleas to get help. Marriage fell apart. Job lost. Journeys to here and there, aimless and dependent on handouts and temporary housing in church warming stations. Haunted daily by echoes of the past. Walking alone to nowhere.

He wasn’t the only one. I can’t count on both hands the number of homeless people I’ve seen walking the streets of Herkimer. Each has his or her own story, and they run the age gamut from young to old. I can only imagine the whys. Kids with drug addictions booted out of their homes by parents who couldn’t take them anymore. Victims of child abuse and others struggling with a plethora of mental illnesses unable or unwilling to get the help necessary to turn their lives around. Regardless of the whys, they’re out there, and they’re everywhere. God’s children all-a God whose son never would have turned his back on them.

Sadly, it doesn’t have to be that way. Certainly not in the world’s richest country. If the hundreds of “super-rich” paid their fair share of taxes, the resources would be available to fund regional homeless shelters replete with lodging, meals, and qualified counselors able to help them find their way, to treat them with a kindness and consideration every person regardless of circumstance deserves; shelters which offer the homeless the one thing they need the most-HOPE; shelters which provide a path to a future which includes gainful employment and thus, the chance to reclaim vestiges of a once happy life. We have the money. We have the qualified personnel. Do we have the will?

New Year’s Day and resolutions are synonymous. Resolutions-you know-those things we make on January 1 and, more often than not, break within a week. I’m a prime example. Last year, I resolved to drop 20 pounds by Easter-no more vanilla shakes, waffles with whipped cream, Milky Ways, or 7:00 PM “chocopops.” By January’s end, I had gained 10.

This year’s resolution is to research the problem, motivate Coalition members to get on board, and DO SOMETHING, no matter what, to alleviate the problem of homelessness in this area. And I appeal to others-clubs, church groups, high schools, individuals-to join the cause. Call 315-866-7765 if interested. I truly believe that together we can make a difference so that sometime, that old warrior will walk through the rain, through the wind, and never walk alone to nowhere, but to somewhere.