Sunday, July 23, 2006

Connecticut ruins lives and makes people homeless and inmates

Here is another side of the coin of Connecticut homelessness:


Nowhere Is Home

Personal Homeless Perspective On Radio Show
July 23, 2006
By ANNIE TASKER, Hartford Courant Staff Writer
MIDDLETOWN -- In his 30 years of being homeless, Fred Carroll has found some creative places to rest his head: the back room of a bowling alley or a 7-Eleven, the balcony of a luxury suite at a hotel where he was doing construction work.

But these days, for one hour a week, his home is on the airwaves of Wesleyan University's WESU FM 88.1 as host of "The Homeless Report."

"I can't hold a thought or string three things together well enough to do anything, but I can sit down and talk," said Carroll, 52. "So I figure, that's my contribution."

Middletown Councilman and talk show host David Bauer says Carroll does more than that for the community. After finding Carroll playing chess with a Wesleyan student in a local coffee shop, Bauer brought him onto his Friday afternoon show, "The Bauer Hour," a year and a half ago.

Though they no longer work together, Bauer still thinks Carroll's observations do a service to Middletown not only by giving a voice to the homeless, but by giving listeners a new perspective on where they live.

"Through his eyes and words, people can see their town in a whole different way," Bauer said.

From 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sundays, Carroll delivers stream-of-consciousness commentary and guest interviews on homelessness and other issues in Middletown. The topics range from the sculptures on Main Street (Carroll hates them) to panhandling (he's morally opposed). His guests have included Green Party gubernatorial candidate Cliff Thornton, and a man who, until recently, lived in a tent on the street.

"There's got to be a homeless theme," he said. "Like, I'll talk about the war, but from a homeless perspective, because that was my deal."

On a recent show, Carroll veers from panhandling to circus animals to, inevitably, the necessity of money itself.

"Money isn't everything, but it's good when you're hungry," he said to Bob, the man who lived in a tent and who is now becoming a regular on the show.

He goes on to explain his stance on the psychology of panhandlers: Either you've got it or you don't, he said - "it" being an emotional capacity for approaching strangers and asking them for money. He compares panhandlers to mimes, "workin' it with the face, with a hat or something."

Carroll doesn't panhandle - and advises people not to give money to those who do. "When you give a panhandler a dollar, God only knows what has happened on a karmic level," he tells his audience. "You may not have done him a favor, but you don't know that."

The Homeless Report started as a 2 a.m. spot in February, and was moved to its current time after getting good feedback from Wesleyan University listeners. Carroll's first thought when he got moved to a Sunday afternoon slot this summer was that he was in over his head.

"I did a great goofball show at 2 in the morning," he said. "I had fun. But what I realize is I'm not really qualified."

Carroll said he's homeless because he's bad at saving money. Moving with his mother to Connecticut from Woodhaven, Queens, in 1974 after his parents' divorce, he said, started him on his path to homelessness.

"I started getting sloppy and indigent right away," he said. The working world, with its insistence on paperwork and forms of identification, never felt right to him.

"Most people who are sober and reasonable and intelligent have never really played the fool," said Carroll. "I think my deal is, I never lost it, but I've been an idiot. I can talk about it with a certain authority, this homeless thing."

Think about a daily routine after work, and how different a daily routine can be for the homeless, Bauer said. When you're living indoors, you come home, change your clothes and use the bathroom. If you're homeless, doing the same basic things in public is against the law.

"To be homeless is to be illegal in just about everything you do," Bauer said. "In some very difficult ways, being homeless is a full-time job. The show gives people a window in on a life like that."

Carroll, in fact, isn't homeless these days - and it's making him nervous.

For the past few months, he has been living with Anne-Marie, the hot dog lady on Court Street, in exchange for helping around the house and walking her brother's dog. If his experience has taught him one thing, it's that, when you're living under someone else's roof, you're two words away from being back on the street: "Get out."

So, even though he has a house key and a cellphone from Anne-Marie that rings "Flight of the Bumblebee," Carroll is waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It's that mind-set that makes him predict he will die alone, huddled in a bus stop, trying to stay out of the cold.

Until then, he will be Middletown's voice for the homeless - if for no other reason than that he's the only one in the running for the title.

"Most people want the homeless to be invisible," Bauer said. "That he's out there taking a fresh whack at it every week - it's uncharted territory."

Contact Annie Tasker at


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