It was a lesson in compassion straight out of the Gospel of St. John.
Born on foreign shores, a man now homeless, brought some of the medical
training and compassion for the infirm he first acquired in his native
Haiti to bear in caring for a fellow guest at the diocese’s Emmanuel
House homeless shelter in his time of need.
After walking the streets of Providence for several hours as a powerful
winter storm took aim at New England Jan. 3, Joseph Follett returned
early to the diocesan shelter, where he had also stayed the night
His feet soaked from walking in the light snow that had fallen
since he had left that morning, Follett slowly, and with some difficulty
removed his socks to dry, but recovered his feet with his wet sneakers.
After overhearing Emmanuel House Director Dotty Perreault express
concern about Follett’s well-being considering his borderline diabetic
condition, John Compas immediately came to Follett’s aid, removing his
drenched sneakers and, taking a wash cloth, he began to gently cleanse
and dry the man’s cold, blistered feet.
He then obtained a pair of new
white athletic socks, recently donated to the shelter, and stretched
them over Follett’s feet to protect them.
“What this man needs is some TLC,” Compas said, with an accent that testified to his Haitian French-Creole upbringing.
Tender loving care these days is hard to come by for Follett, according
to his adult son Andrew – who is also currently homeless and a guest at
Emmanuel House. His father, he said, was once a former special needs
teacher who taught for 28 years in the Boston schools.
The experience of the past four weeks, since the two began seeking
shelter at Emmanuel House has been overwhelming for both of them.
“Every day here it’s been something special,” said Andrew, who had
attended college in Pennsylvania with aspirations of becoming a football
coach. “I’ve never really been part of a community.”
Emmanuel House is an evening shelter, so the men must depart in the
early morning. Those in need of a place to sleep can then return to the
facility, located at 239 Public St., on the city’s South Side, when it
reopens at 5 p.m.
But as temperatures dipped Thursday, and snow began to fall, Bishop
Thomas J. Tobin called for the shelter to be reopened at noon to provide
those in need with a refuge from the storm. He directed that the
shelter would remain open through Sunday afternoon.
Following the bishop’s announcement, and a phone call from the shelter’s
director to one of the men – who was trying to keep warm for a couple
of hours at Crossroads Rhode Island before taking to the streets again –
it didn’t take long for word to spread among the three dozen homeless
men who had spent the previous night at Emmanuel House that the diocesan
shelter was reopening much earlier in the day than usual.
Another group that had set out for Kennedy Plaza soon learned that they
too had a warm, safe place to seek refuge from the approaching storm,
and redirected their course for Emmanuel House.
By 1 p.m., amid falling snow, about a dozen men had returned to Emmanuel House.
“I was glad for the information,” said Doug, one of the shelter’s
guests, of how the group he was with at Crossroads appreciated receiving
a phone call from Emmanuel House Director Dotty Perreault inviting them
back several hours early.
He and some of the other men had just arrived at Crossroads after
visiting Amos House to receive lunch. They were hoping to stay warm for a
couple of hours before returning to walk the streets until the diocesan
As the men sat quietly watching television, Perreault returned to
Emmanuel House after picking up some supplies, preparing to hunker down
with her staff at the shelter through Sunday.
While the decision to keep the shelter open during the day was a
necessary one, given the conditions, it is one that may have
ramifications down the line.
“I had to bring on two extra people for weather relief and that will put
us over budget,” Perreault says as she checks the level of donated
supplies sitting on the shelves of an improvised stockroom created from a
small office at the former diocesan day care center.
She is concerned that the added impact to her budget due to the storm
may force Emmanuel House to close for the spring season days earlier
than it had originally planned, leaving the homeless out on the street
with no place to sleep at night.
David, 55, said he was thankful for the opportunity to spend the day inside, and out of the harsh weather.
“It’s freezing. I just got over pneumonia,” he said.
What would he be doing if the shelter had not reopened during the day?
“Probably walking in the city. You can only stay at Crossroads for so long. Just enough to get warm,” he said.
“It’s kind of tough being out there.”
The early opening prompted Perreault to arrange for an earlier food
delivery from the Salvation Army, which brings dinner twice a week and
breakfast on Sunday mornings to Emmanuel House.
Around 3 p.m., the truck arrived, and the two Salvation Army staff
members, assisted by a couple of guests from Emmanuel House, proceeded
to carry the warm pasta and a side dish in.
The delivery of food into the shelter was halted only briefly, when what
sounded like five gunshots in the distance pierced the air.
“Were those gunshots?” said Roger Cronin Jr., stopping in his snowy tracks near the front door.
After the brief pause, the delivery continued as Cronin and his colleague, Maureen Gensheimer, continued their mission.
Cronin said that even though the weather conditions for driving were
becoming increasingly miserable, and he would have preferred to remain
inside at that time, experience has taught him how important it is to
honor one’s commitment to those in need.
“Both Maureen and I have been homeless ourselves,” he said. “We’ve both
been out there. We know what it is like to be cold, wet and hungry. I
knew I had to come out.”