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Words of encouragement given to people waiting for assistance during Homeless Resource Day

March 02, 2013|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Peter James Banos known as "Pops" has been homeless in Hagerstown for about eight years but strives to help others in the same situation to let them know they are not alone. The Washington County Homeless Coalition held the Homeless Resource Day at the Aspiring to Serve building in Hagerstown Saturday bringing services and assistance to individuals and families in need.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

Peter James Banos spends every day counting his blessings.

He feels blessed to have a place to sleep.

Not too many years ago, he was a licensed contractor who built houses. Now, he lives in a shelter.

He feels blessed for the coat on his back.

It might have been donated, but he needed to stay warm in the winter and had no money to buy clothing.

He feels blessed to have friends.

Many of them live in the woods, “but I’m fortunate to know and love them,” he said.

Mostly, he feels blessed to be alive.

“There was a time when I wanted to lay down, go to sleep and die,” the Hagerstown man shared. “I felt I had no reason to live. My wife had passed away, I had no job, no future. But God said, ‘No, I have things for you to do.’”

Banos said he has overcome alcoholism, has had a variety of health issues, including two strokes in three weeks, and currently is on disability.

But despite his struggles, he faces each day with a purpose. He tries to make a difference in someone’s life.

“That’s my mission,” the 60-year-old man said. “I want people to know that regardless of how difficult life becomes, it’s still worth living.”

Known as “Pops” to the those whose paths he has crossed, Banos said he understands people’s frustrations with a system that sometimes is complicated.

“I’m one of them,” he said. “For the past six years, I have called the REACH shelter my home. So people can identify with me.”

Banos said people who are homeless or facing financial challenges still are people and that is a message he tries to share.

“They just need a little understanding. They need to be loved and supported. And that’s what I do — on the streets or wherever,” he said.

On Saturday morning, Banos mingled with families and individuals who walked through the doors of the Aspiring to Serve building on West Franklin Street in Hagerstown.

Here, under one roof, about 45 vendors were participating in Homeless Resource Day, providing information and services to assist the homeless and those on the edge of homelessness.

Banos offered a handshake and words of encouragement to many of the people who waited for a volunteer to help assess their needs.

“Everybody, including me, has a story as to how they got here,” he said. A lot of people just want the ability to start over.”

People began arriving early for the second annual Homeless Resource Day, which ran from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The event was sponsored by the Washington County Homeless Coalition, in collaboration with the Washington County Department of Social Services.

“Our goal is to provide the services and connections people need, all in one location,” said Cindy Hockenbury, coalition president.

Last year, more than 150 attended the event.

“I think we’ll equal or surpass that number this year,” Hockenbury said. “There’s been a steady stream of families, couples and single adults coming through the doors since we opened to the public.”

Spread out over four floors of the building, participants could receive assistance with a wide range of services, including housing, health care, addiction recovery, literacy, education and employment.

They also could receive haircuts, books and a meal.

While many of the services were directed at assisting the homeless, Hockenbury said “we also want to help those living on the edge, who are just a paycheck away from being homeless. We want to prevent that from happening.”

Among those attending the event was Janice Stewart, 52, of Hagerstown, who is hoping to not become a homeless statistic.

“I went from full-time employment to no job and no benefits,” she said. “I’m not sure what the future holds.”

Stewart said she worked as a phlebotomist and thought her job was secure until last April, when she was told she was no longer needed.

“Health care was my chosen line of employment and I thought it was something I would do until I retired. Well, who would have guessed that I would be here today?” she said.

Stewart said she was often called “The Turtle” at work “because they said I was slow. That was a given. But I was also accurate. In the end, it was called lack of productivity.”

Now, she said, she’s facing a life with no job and health issues.

“I was recently diagnosed with emphysema, so I’ve filed for disability,” she noted.

She also is hoping to receive rental assistance.

“But the bills don’t stop, money does,” she said.

Stewart said she is “still looking for an answer to the madness. I’m still looking for someone to wake me up from this horrible nightmare.”

On Saturday, she hoped to find some assistance in keeping her head above water.

“I never thought I’d be in this situation, with 10 years to go until I can retire,” she said. “This ‘turtle’ has a broken shell and is drowning.”

Hockenbury said those attending Homeless Resource Day also received a bag of personal care items, bus passes and small gift certificates, made possible by community donations.

“We’re really fortunate to have so much support,” she said.

Hockenbury also thanked the volunteers who donated their time on Saturday to helping others.

“None of this would be possible without those people,” she noted.

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