Rich Garon: Reflections at Christmas on a Homeless Friend’s Passing

Russell died earlier this year. He was sixty-three, but looked ten years older. That’s what living in the woods will do to you. He was a big man physically and as I was to find out, he was a big man if you measured the kindness he showed to so many.

I wondered how Russell withstood below-freezing temperatures especially that time around Christmas several years ago when someone stole his propane heater while he was asleep in his tent. I didn’t see how he could stand the blistering Virginia heat that’s been getting worse every year.

When he got kicked out of transitional housing because of a developing illness and was forced back into the woods, I didn’t think he’d survive. I and others brought him food as he stayed in his tent. On the occasion that he had a doctor’s appointment at the free clinic, he’d have to walk down a steep ravine. His gait had become very unsteady. I can remember helping him navigate the path and supporting him as sweat poured down both of us. I felt like I was carrying Jesus and fought with my all to keep him steady. After I’d take Russell back up to his tent, I’d return to my car and cry.

Before I met Russell six years ago, I had little idea what it was like to live in the woods: extreme temperatures, rain, snow, with only torn canvass and tarps protecting you; little food, old clothes, substance abuse, physical danger lurking, assistance programs that look better on paper than they actually are. Something had happened to each person living in the woods that had landed them there. Some made it out, but many more did not.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Rich Garon

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