From Here to Eternity, Part 1: Homeless and dying in Manchester
MANCHESTER, NH – On Sunday Todd Twombly will be reborn. He will be dunked in the baptismal trough at Manchester Christian Church and emerge a new spiritual creation.
He knows it was only by the grace of God that a taxi ride to Manchester two years ago delivered him from his own darkness.
“I found God in Manchester, and I’m so grateful,” Todd says.
His baptism was arranged by friends he’s made through the Do You Know Him Ministries. It will be a blessing to him, but it won’t change the hard facts of his physical existence: Todd is homeless and dying. He’s had to accept that even terminal cancer is not a ticket out of the shelter and into a place where he can live his last days with dignity.
Two years ago he was living in transitional housing in Tilton, after getting sober through Phoenix House. He arrived there, finally ready to accept he was powerless over alcohol. At 50, it was a relief. What he didn’t know was that his desire to stop drinking was due, in part, to the cancer that was spreading through his body.
“The place where I was living in Tilton closed a month after I got there. It was supposed to be for six months, while I found work and got back on my feet. We got two-weeks notice,” says Todd. He was handed the standard list of resources and left with the clothes on his back. Without a job or money he had few options. He tried to find a new place to live, did some couch-surfing and rode out a bad situation with a “crazy roommate” as long as he could. But for his own sanity and sobriety, he left. Then, a big winter storm hit, and made it impossible to live on the street.
“The town of Tilton was nice enough to put me up for a night in a hotel. Then they got me a taxi to Manchester, and that’s the first time I went to the shelter,” Todd says.
Although he was already one-year sober, his deliverance to the Queen City changed his life.
In Aug. of 2017 Todd learned he had colorectal cancer. A tumor in his rectum metastasized and spread to his lungs and liver. Six months of chemo had no effect on his tumor. His brothers in Conway invited him to stay while he underwent treatment. Although they are supportive, family situations are often strained by circumstance. It was not ideal.
“My brother’s house is in the woods 20 miles from the nearest anything, and with no vehicle it was just too much. I know they love me, but it wasn’t working out for me. I prefer to be homeless in Manchester over that,” Todd says.
He returned to Manchester and, in October of 2018 he was hospitalized for a colostomy. A surgeon rerouted a tube around the tumor and left him with a colostomy bag. After being released from the hospital he stayed in a rooming house briefly, but when he didn’t have the money for rent and paid a day late, he was turned out.
Rules are rules.
So it was back to the shelter.
He is now just trying to manage the pain and find as much joy in the time he has left – maybe six months or so, based on his doctor’s prognosis. He recently visited a local funeral home and made his final arrangements. He will pay for his cremation in a few installments from his disability income, which is $1,346 a month.
But most of all, he’s trying to find a place of his own – a small apartment or, ideally, a hospice or nursing home setting. He can afford to pay $800-900 a month in rent. He is on the Manchester Housing Authority waiting list, and received a housing voucher to supplement his income. Lots of paperwork and proof of his income created a waiting game. The Way Home has tried to help. He thought he’d found his own new digs after looking at a studio apartment on Lake Avenue a few weeks ago. But his credit history turned up an eviction, and the landlord passed.
He has been staying at the shelter since, although he occasionally gives himself a reprieve when his disability check lands in his Direct Express account. Stringing together a few days at a hotel is as close to heaven on earth as he can get – there is privacy and dignity, something that is otherwise lacking in his life. But $79 a night at the Econolodge quickly depletes his account. It’s a difficult indulgence to resist, given the choice between a hotel room and the shelter.
It’s hard to figure out what will help Todd escape his status as homeless, as the clock of his illness keeps ticking. A spokesperson for the shelter said due to privacy reasons they could not confirm he resides there.
Recently a new round of medications were delivered for him at the shelter in a big box. Once he realized it was waiting for him he retrieved it and had to quickly jam all the various medical paraphernalia into his backpack. Finding the time and place to administer the rectal medication and suppositories that ease the pain requires planning and strategy. He feels he has to protect himself from those at the shelter who might try to steal his meds. Only a select number of people including some staff and residents know about his illness. So changing his colostomy bag without a big to-do is a challenge.
“I’m wearing a colostomy bag, and one of my fears is I will be the guy who bumps into someone and spills it or will be the guy who smells like shit because I can’t change my bag when I need to,” Todd says.
He thanks God every day for leading him to Manchester. Without his journey through addiction, he may never have come to know Christ. At least he can die with the abiding peace that there will be a glorious life for him with God in heaven.
It was in Manchester where Todd found his tribe – people within the faith community who accept him as a brother in Christ, and do all that they can to ease his burden. When he was released from the hospital in October it was Rick and Jackie who picked him up. He met them at the Salvation Army where they volunteer to serve breakfast on Saturdays. He also has grown in his faith through 1269 Cafe, which offers a warming shelter and meals to the homeless, and feeds the flock the best they can with Bible verses, short sermons and prayer.
Todd has designated the ministry as his payee for help in managing his monthly disability income.
Last weekend, when the Lamys learned that Todd’s search for an apartment was still fruitless, they knew what they had to do.
“My husband and I don’t work together during the breakfast, we’re in separate areas. But we had each heard about Todd’s situation independently, and when we came together after breakfast, we both had the same thought,” says Jackie.
“I had it in my mind to ask her what she thought about offering to let Todd stay with us temporarily, and she had the same thought. That’s how we know it isn’t us; it’s God,” says Rick.
They prayed about it and spoke with Mark Ploss, one of the faith team leaders for Do You Know Him Ministries, who will be baptizing Todd on Sunday.
“We didn’t know if Todd would be comfortable coming here with us, so we asked Mark what he thought first,” says Rick.
Todd accepted. The daily anxiety of managing his own care, and the realization that his body is declining allowed him to receive the blessing of a temporary home. He admits it’s hard to receive love after a lifetime of not knowing how to let others in.
These days he’s doing all he can to pray through the stress of it all. He sometimes feels disoriented. He’s tired of carrying his medical supplies on his back, and sleeping with one eye open.
For the past six days Todd has been with the Lamys. His hospice social worker has come by and keeps in touch with him. Although she hasn’t given up trying to find Todd a permanent place to live out the rest of his life, she isn’t giving him false hope.
He could return to the shelter, but it’s only a matter of time before he is too sick to be there. As his condition worsens, Todd says he would like to be in a nursing home setting.
“I’m not bashing the shelter in any way. Between my shelter case worker, the Visiting Nurses and my hospice social worker, I’m in good hands. I know they’re doing everything they can do, but it’s only so much,” Todd says. “I don’t do well living alone. I tend to isolate, and that’s why at this point I feel like a nursing home would be the best for me. But there are no beds.”
There are still too many bureaucratic barriers – a shortage of transitional living spaces for those who want to leave the shelter, especially for men – the silos of service that aren’t meshing, and the complications of Medicaid. In the end, it all seems to come back to financial considerations and protocol.
“Each cog is working well, but you put it all together and the wheel’s not moving,” says Todd.
He says he is most grateful for his community of faith, especially the Lamys.
“They would not turn me away because they’re doing what they believe they are called to do by God,” Todd says. “But there is a brokenness to the system. I’m not the only homeless person who is ill, but yet there is no help for me, and I’m only looking for a place to die. Without their kindness, I am on the verge of being without a place to live with a terminal illness, and there is nothing anyone can do for me.”
He is willing to tell his story in hope that it will light a fire under someone to close the gaps in the system. He knows that New Horizons has been slowly making changes since it merged with Families in Transition – New Horizons, and the good outweighs the bad. But he feels after a year of transition, it’s time for quick and sweeping changes.
He recently learned that he does not qualify for a nursing home because he has the “wrong” form of Medicaid.
“Who knew there were two kinds of Medicaid,” says Rick, seated at his kitchen counter while his wife prepares dinner for the three of them. “The kind of Medicaid he needs means more paperwork, and they say it will take six months to go through – time he doesn’t have.”
Jackie says it’s a hard reality for Todd and others like him, marginalized by homelessness.
“Before we got into helping with the Do You Know Him ministry, and got to know Todd and others like him, I would never have thought I’d be putting my arms around them,” says Jackie. “We all have a fear of the homeless, but they are human beings. I’m doing this because I’ve come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, and this is what he asks us to do, to serve Him by serving others.”
She has been amazed to learn from Todd’s hospice social worker about all the barriers that exist in the system. She and her husband have been trying to help by making phone calls.
“It’s really a problem. Todd’s situation hurts all of us, but everyone’s hands seem tied,” says Jackie.
This is the first in a series of stories about homelessness in Manchester. We will continue to follow Todd’s story, and others like him, here.