“If you don’t give up on that better life for yourself and have patience – TASK is number one to help you if you are willing.”–TASK Patron Fletcher Turner on working toward self-sufficiency.
As a kid, Fletcher Turner wanted to be an archaeologist. Unfortunately, a tumultuous start in life took him far from that dream. So instead of uncovering ancient civilizations in some far off land, he is at home in Trenton watching others live his dream on the National Geographic Channel.
But the fact that Turner can enjoy his favorite show in a place of his own, is, in itself a victory. Just two years ago, he was homeless, living on the city’s streets, in abandoned buildings and on occasion, a relative’s couch.
“I cleaned it; kept it neat as I could,” Turner said, recalling the vacant walk-up he once shared with 33 cats on North Clinton Street. “It was my home. I’m not proud of it, but that’s how I was living.”
It’s been 30 years since Turner has heard the jingle of his own house keys. Holding the ones to the single-bedroom apartment he now shares with one gray and white tabby, Turner grins at his life today. Now 50, he is “very happy” to be off the streets he once thought would end him. And after years of depending on TASK for food, these days, Turner prepares his own meals.
“He doesn’t need me anymore…” says TASK’s Senior Case Manager, Julie Janis. “But that’s the goal, isn’t it?”
Janis said she is by no means sad to know that Turner is on his own. In fact, she brags about his success like a proud mother; but her sentiment is understandable. Afterall, she worked with Turner for years, referring him to other social agencies while seeing him through sobriety, relapse, bouts of depression and suicide attempts. Janis admitted she had to literally walk him off a bridge. But her work at TASK is a labor of love and one she does well to hear Turner tell it.
“Without God and Miss Julie I’d still be out there,” he said. “She gets the job done because she really cares. She’s an angel.”
Janis hastily dismisses the angel moniker. But she knows she, and TASK, have a good reputation in the community.
“This is a place where someone can come and know we’ll listen,” Janis said. “We meet them wherever they are on the path to self-sufficiency, and essentially talk it through.”
In her five years at the soup kitchen, Janis has talked it through with more than 2,000 patrons. Up until last year when Whitney Hendrickson, the second case manager, was hired, Janis managed, on average, nearly 300 individuals a month. And while Turner’s need for TASK has diminished, many others need everything this program has to offer. However, limited resources and a growing case load, has forced the program to cut back on taking afternoon walk-ins.
“We were seeing more than 400 people in some months,” Janis said, pointing to a folder full of sign-in sheets, each listing the 20-plus names of patrons.
Ideally, Janis would like to hire another case manager, freeing her up to do more effective follow up, such as self-sufficiency action plans for patrons. She would also like to bring in more partners like New Eyes for the Needy which provides free eye-glass prescriptions for patrons. Furniture is another area of need—specifically for families placed in permanent housing. While TASK does not take furniture donations, it does purchase items for patrons. Janis would like to increase the budget—especially for mattresses which are a critical need for larger families.
“When I only have a budget for 10 mattresses, I can’t very well give four of them to one family, knowing others will need them too,” she explained.
Fortunately, Turner didn’t need a mattress. However, the pots and pans that came with the pillows, blankets and other items in his TASK move-in basket, have certainly kept him busy cooking, sober and reveling in the joys of archaeology and his new home.