It’s hard for Leon Benjamin to find clothes to fit his six-foot-five-inch frame. Saturday he nabbed not only nifty matching blue sweat shirt and sweat pants—as well as a lead on a permanent apartment of his own.
The transaction occurred Saturday afternoon as Benjamin was among hundreds of people—many homeless or like him in transitional housing—who took advantage of “Operation Love-A-Fair Freemarket for All.”
The second annual free flea market was an extravaganza of volunteerism, with over 50 volunteers joining Jesse Hardy (at left in photo with Benjamin), the grassroots homeless activist, in assembling a huge range of clothes and shoes for people of all sizes.
The extensive selection spread out on hanging racks and in bags on the Green under bright sunshine and in defiance of the mud that lurched up from under the melting snow.
Justin Burnett, Brandon Chandler, and Cedric Joyner (pictured) and other members of the emerging New Haven Minor League football team, the New Haven Venom, were among the many community-minded folks whom Hardy has drawn into his project.
Hardy’s initiative uses flea markets, haircuts, and other visible allures to address in creative ways deeper problems of the homeless, such as reestablishing and maintaining personal connections and finding apartments.
Both were on display Sunday as Marcey Jones (pictured), the project’schief administrative officer, showed off J-HOP’s new tag, with several 24/7 phone numbers that each and every homeless person was offered when they showed up and registered at the fair.
Within the first hour of the noon to 5 p.m. event, she said, more than 200 people had registered and received the J-HOP ID tag.
Jones explained the purpose of the numbered tag: “If they’re found, if they’re incoherent,” there will be a number and a contact, namely J-HOP.
“I’ll give them clothes and food all day. It’s time to pick it up. We’re their family,” Jones added.
Hardy has picked it up in terms of what he views as the chief problem of the homeless: affordable housing. “They’ll go to jail just to stay warm,” Hardy said.
So he is finding them apartments. Hardy claimed to have at least one landlord who has offered 20 apartments to folks whom Hardy will select and help to screen. Ten apartment will be for free for an undetermined amount of time, and ten for an affordable low rental.
Leon Benjamin may be one of the lucky ones to nab such an apartment.
Benjamin and Hardy stood to the side of the busy flea market and discussed the issue.
Benjamin is now in temporary housing in a program for recovering alcoholics. He’s a senior, age 63, on SSI disability with an income of about $650 a month. Hardy wanted to know if he’s had apartments before, and if so, how it went.
Benjamin answered, yes, many. He’s looking for a place where utilities are included. He has applied and is on many lists. Waiting lists, like at Bella Vista. The lists are long.
“I can make a call,” Hardy said.
Then he pressed further: “You never got kicked out of developments?”
“No. I never had a problem with rent, but electricity.”
“You’re looking [to be able to pay] what? About $200 a month?”
“Yes. With utilities. Those are killing me.”
“We’re going to absolutely find you a place.”
Hardy said the apartment donor wants to remain anonymous, for now. He said he will continue to work to find other landlords to help address the issue, but, of course, screening is a problem. The one placement he has made with his current stock of offered rooms did not work out. He said he will need to do more thorough screening of other candidates with officials at Columbus House and the other shelters in town.
Benjamin walked off not only with new free sweats that will fit his unusually long 36-inch inseam in the leg, but with a touch of genuine hope.