By Montana Samuels / @pennedbymontana
NEW BEDFORD — It’s Saturday at about 10:30 a.m.
You’ve finished your coffee, put on your pants, and grabbed the essentials. Before walking out the door, you check the weather on your cell phone. The dull light on your face highlights the grimace:
For most, this is enough to spend a Saturday indoors. Bridgewater’s Peter Kelleher is not most people.
On Saturday, Kelleher spent his afternoon on the streets of New Bedford, offering boots, coats, gloves, blankets and food to the city’s homeless.
There were even coloring books and a teddy bear in case any children came to the bus, something Kelleher said doesn’t happen often, but he prepares for anyway.
He pulled into a parking space on Purchase Street shortly before 12:30 p.m. and soon after people began gravitating toward the big red school bus that Kelleher drives all over New England.
“Excuse me, where do all the homeless hang?” asked Kelleher, in his characteristic brashness, of a man who had told him that he was “kind of homeless.”
The man said if the bus stayed on Purchase Street people would come, so that’s where he parked it.
Some filled whole boxes with warm weather clothes and their backpacks. Others simply took a sandwich and a hot chocolate.
This certainly wasn’t Kelleher’s first bus trip.
Support the Soupman, the non-profit that supports these endeavors, has been operating since October of 2017, Kelleher estimates.
He started the organization, in large part, because of what he witnessed his son Travis go through prior to his death of a drug overdose in 2016.
What Kelleher hopes to get across now, through his organization, is that none of us are all that different than the people he is helping.
Caroline Desroche is one of the people who works with Kelleher when he does these bus trips, and said that she discovered the program through social media.
As Desroche and company made sure people got clothes and food, Kelleher listened as people shared their stories.
For Brian Leandre of New Bedford, his story starts with a divorce, and then an eviction.
As child support payments mounted, he chose to leave a $1,400 a month program and begin renting in the city in order to make all of his necessary payments. When a roommate didn’t pay rent, however, Leandre was evicted from his home and has now been homeless for what he said is about one year.
The homeless that gathered around the bus on Saturday said their list of problems don’t stop at simply not having a roof over their head. Some said day to day difficulties include a rocky relationship with the city’s police force.
For Kelleher, his focus isn’t yet on answering those big questions of how cities can tackle both homelessness and illegal substances, but what he can over people is a bit of hope, some hot chocolate, and a listening ear.
“We all have a story, some are just worse than others,” said Kelleher.