Earl's Place gives addicts a bridge back to life

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A REPORT from the weekly house meeting at Earl's Place, a transitional home for 17 formerly homeless drug addicts and alcoholics in two renovated rowhouses at Eden and Lombard streets in East Baltimore:

Greg, a graduate of Earl's Place and now its resident manager, led the meeting in a prayer that all the men knew: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Sheila Helgerson, executive director, thanked everyone for helping with the Dec. 9 dinner celebrating the third anniversary of Earl's Place. Helgerson explained that Earl's Place is named after Earl Johnson, a homeless man who fell into the harbor in 1993 and drowned. Four years later, an ecumenical group called United Ministries created the transition house to help men like Earl.

Helgerson said most of the men have their own room. They share a kitchen, dining room, large living room and the long journey back to a more normal and healthy life. They can stay at Earl's Place for up to two years. Their average age is 38. Since 1997, 10 graduates of the program have found and kept jobs and homes, and stayed away from drugs and alcohol. Not every man who enters Earl's Place stays. But "very few" have left because of addictions relapse. When men graduate, Helgerson gives them a gift-wrapped copy of Dr. Seuss' "Oh, the Places You'll Go." Helgerson is a social worker who once lived on a farm in Iowa.

Greg, who once lived in an abandoned house - an "abandominium" - in East Baltimore, said he had had a "blessed week," though it was difficult with final exams at Baltimore City Community College, where he's studying to be an addictions counselor. He went Christmas shopping with his daughters. "Just seeing life on life's terms," he called it.

Neal said he had a good week and likes both his jobs. He loads ships and works at the Baltimore Convention Center. He visits his parents on weekends.

Mel, whose nickname is Sparky, said his first week at Earl's Place had been good. "Everyone has been real nice." He said he was an alcoholic who once had - and lost - his truck-repair business. He said his son, who lives with the boy's mother, has brain cancer.

Chris, also new to Earl's Place, said, "My family life has not been all peaches and cream." He said he used to have a good job in the emergency room of a Baltimore hospital. He also had an apartment. He lost both with a deep dive into drugs, "set off by small things that you might be able to cope with, but that I couldn't." Chris, who got addictions treatment and came into Earl's Place "clean," as all residents must, said he is still learning that he has a disease from which "I'll be in recovery the rest of my life." Chris said he was anxious to return to work, maybe even the hospital job he had before. For now, he said, he was thinking of volunteering one day a week at a downtown lunch program for the poor. Chris was asked if he was "happy" to be in Earl's Place. He said "relieved" was a better word.

Dwayne announced that he planned on getting married next year, after he leaves Earl's Place. He said he has two jobs - as a prep man for a car rental agency and as a courier for a messenger service. He sleeps at Earl's Place between jobs and attends a 12-step program on Sundays to keep his heroin and cocaine addictions in check.

Sam, perhaps the oldest man in the group, said he had been ill, but went to work anyway. He has a job as a custodian at the Social Security Administration. He stopped drinking after a seizure on the street that led to a frightening experience in a hospital. As doctors worked on him, he said, he felt he was "being buried alive." Sam was asked what he saw himself doing in another few months, after he leaves Earl's Place. "Sitting in a rocking chair and playing with my grandchildren."

'Mr. Bunny' is back at work

This Just In: Burnett Roane, the former shoeshine man at Dan Brothers Discount Men's Shoes in South Baltimore, has taken his kit to Gage World Class Men's Store on West Baltimore Street. Ask for "Mr. Bunny." You can leave your kicks or get them shined on the hoof .

'Two weeks will do it'

Meanwhile, the going-out-of-business sale continues at Dan Brothers, a depressing thing even as fantastic holiday lights bring glitter and smiles to the Cross Street Market area. "We've sold about 50 percent [of the 12,000-pair inventory]," longtime salesman Harry Kalinsky says. "I'd say another two weeks will do it." Old-timers and long-timers have been coming in every day since the sale started Nov. 2. "A lot of these people grew up with this store," Kalinsky says glumly. "They come in and it's not just about shoes. It's, 'Howya' doin? How's the family? How're the kids? How's the cat? How's the dog?' You know what I mean."

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose

Recent early-morning, telephone conversation between my 86-year-old mother, the former Rose Popolo, and her daughter-in-law, the former Valerie Will.

Valerie: Hello.

Rose: Hello, Eddie? Joey?

Valerie: No, it's Valerie.

Rose: Olivia?

Valerie: Yes!

Rose: Is your mother home?

Valerie: Just a minute, I'll get her (pause). Hello.

Rose: Oh Valerie, don't go out, it's a sheet of ice.

Valerie: Well, I have to take the kids to school.

Rose: Be careful. It's so bad out. Are you going to the store?

Valerie: No.

Rose: Oh, if you do, will you get me something? I need boxes. I have to mail the presents.

Valerie: What kind of boxes? You have a house full of boxes.

Rose: You have to buy something. They won't give you boxes unless you buy something.

Valerie: What am I gonna buy?

Rose: Evaporated milk.

Valerie: You need evaporated milk?

Rose: Nope. I have plenty.

Valerie: Then why would you want me to go to the store to get some?

Rose: Because I need boxes.

Valerie: Well, I'll get a few groceries, too.

Rose: You will? Oh, then get me a bunch of flat Italian parsley, a small Ivory soap, and a jar of sweet pickles - Dailey or Heinz. I love them, and I don't have any.

Valerie: If you want that, then why would I get evaporated milk?

Rose: No! Don't get the milk. I have too much now.

Valerie: How many boxes?

Rose: Forget the boxes. You said I should use these. Be careful. It's a sheet of ice.

Valerie: Dear God.

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