Needham Alley (far from his real name) grew up learning odd jobs early in Whitneyville, a little east of Jonesport. Not “living the dream” but instead mirroring the poverty of almost every family around him. His life story would track well with the majority of folks his age range in that region some people call “Downeast.”
By age 12, Needham could do a fair job of breaking down and resurrecting a gas powered lawn mower. At 14 he could almost hold his own on the clam flats with his father and Uncle Ned. When he graduated high school (with a reading equivalency level of grade 5) he left the ceremony driving his own blue, 1961 Dodge pickup (it had 118,000 miles on it when he bought it on the front yard of the seller, down the Perkins Cove Road off 192).
Needham’s next 40 years included getting turned down for the army (back and knee issues), getting married, working 4 or 5 rural Maine careers (one of which actually had a payroll service with social security taken out), having two boys, getting divorced, gradually getting separated from family as they moved away, developing Type II diabetes, giving his modest house to his nephew, visiting family out of state, failing to pay rent and getting evicted, falling asleep in a car with an arm cramped under his chest and soon after needing the 4 fingers on his left hand amputated (diabetes), securing housing in a program for seniors, being moved by that agency 3 times, getting hospitalized with pneumonia and an infection that resisted treatment, and finally ending up at the front door of this Shelter. His diabetes is hard for him to successfully manage, he can’t work, his hearing and eyesight are going, and he’s been bullied on the streets of Bangor. The Shelter’s Program Manager and Targeted Case Manager, in cahoots with one of the Shelter Aides, issued Needham a “business card” he could use when necessary—it states that he’s on a fixed income budget that the “…Shelter monitors every week.”
His staff support team managed to again find him housing (in a rough section of town and a unit for which the word “modest” would be an exaggeration), but he has building neighbors running a mom and pop business for a clientele not too bright and desperately in need of their service. So Needham called the Shelter at 4:00 a.m. the other morning, feeling stuck and exhausted and afraid of the incessant pounding on his door with the pounders saying, “We want to buy some heroin!” The night staff told him to come on over, and as soon as it felt safe, he did.
Needham’s Targeted Case Manager is again working to find Needham decent housing. The market, the inadequate supply of housing vouchers, and Needham’s emotional fatigue are contesting possible success.
Maine has a lot of “Needhams,” unfortunately, and that number is growing…