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Making Do

Homeless Couple Is Stuck Working In Baltimore

John Ellsberry
GET OUT OF TOWN: Donna and Leonard planned to move back to New Hampshire, but their plans fell through.

By Van Smith | Posted 5/10/2006

“Our plans to go up north have failed,” Leonard says with resignation. “So we’re going to be here and continue working.” He and his wife, Donna, arrived in Baltimore by bus last November from their native New Hampshire and have been living in a makeshift shelter under an overpass ever since (“Moving on Down,” April 12). In April, they started jobs handing out free Examiner newspapers at a downtown intersection on weekday mornings, and thus have a small income—starting out at $10 per hour, but, they say, it has since been cut to $8 per hour. They explain their current predicament while hanging out at their shelter, which they call “the spot.”

Since getting their jobs, Leonard says he lost $70 in a mugging, was on the losing end of a fight that broke out at a soup kitchen, and suffered a bad cut on his shin when another homeless man threw a cinder block at him at the spot. They decided they’d had about enough of Baltimore and purchased Greyhound tickets to return to New Hampshire, for which they’re both homesick. But that plan fell through days before their scheduled May 5 departure, when they realized that none of their friends or family back home would put them up. So in Baltimore they’ll stay.

“Hopefully,” Leonard continues, “before August we’ll be able to save enough money to be able to get into a place, a small room or something, so the baby won’t have to be out here.” Donna, 22, is about six months pregnant.

“The baby is moving around some more,” Donna says. “So it’s hurting my belly some more. But it’s going alright. I just can not wait for this baby to come out. Ugh, it is hurting my stomach, man.”

With their job schedules, they say they haven’t yet found the time to visit Health Care for the Homeless to get prenatal care for Donna, or treatment for 42-year-old Leonard’s various health concerns: tendinitis in his right shoulder and elbow, chronic back pain, and other nettlesome aches and pains. But they plan to, now that they know Health Care for the Homeless’ downtown clinic has hours on Saturdays, when they don’t have to post for work. “Man, I wish I’d known that,” Leonard says, promising to get there at the first opportunity.

Health Care for the Homeless also can provide mental-health treatment for Leonard, who carries a lot of baggage from his childhood, when he was severely abused. When he was 26, he was indicted in New Hampshire for raping a small child, a charge that prosecutors eventually declined to pursue when the victim’s family stopped cooperating. Despite police claims that Leonard confessed, he swears he is innocent. Donna says she recently confronted Leonard about getting the help he needs.

“I told him that the only way that he is really going to be able to help me with the baby is by helping himself,” Donna recalls, while Leonard urges her to recount the story. “Like, getting help with the stuff that he’s got inside of him. You know, going through counseling, stuff like that. And I told him that in my mind I had the fear that he might end up hurting me. You know, not meaning to, but doing it because of the way he gets.”

“Sometimes, I feel like I’m psychotic,” Leonard interjects. “Or sometimes I feel like I’m going to kill.”

“And I told him,” Donna continues, “I know the truth hurts, but you need to hear it. Nobody else was big enough to stand up to you and tell you this. Now you finally got a woman who actually does care about you and does love you. Now I think it’s the time you hear it before you do something else that’s going to be wrong, and you’re also not going to believe it. So I’m willing to tell you this is how it should be. And, to tell you the truth, he started crying.”

“There’s a lot about human behavior that I still don’t understand,” Leonard concludes. “I took psychology when I was in prison,” where he served time on a bail-jumping charge connected to the rape case. “But hey, I’m still learning.”

As a first step in the right direction, Leonard says he has stopped drinking vodka, and has vowed to ratchet down his beer intake, too. “Tell the story of what I did,” Leonard suggests, and Donna obliges: “He had a three-quarters of a bottle of vodka, and he dumped the shit out. I said, ‘Damn!’”

“I couldn’t believe it myself,” Leonard says.

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