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“What keeps me going is knowing that I can’t actually save anybody. It’s the closest thing they have to an ID.” “When I’m out here, it doesn’t really feel like work,” he says from the driver’s seat, one hand on the steering wheel and the other poised to wave to familiar faces. Back home, you’d go out at night and just talk to anybody who was hanging out in the village.” Alaalatoa, a broad-shouldered man with a soft voice and salt and pepper beard, grew up on Samoa, a small South Pacific island about 2,000 miles from New Zealand.He’s one of seven children from a tight-knit Catholic family.He steers past Lincoln High School, where the bright lights of the football field are on and several dozen young women scurry through a lacrosse practice. With Judy, small and fragile-looking, he’s more solicitous — and slightly irritated.
As an outreach worker for the nonprofit JOIN, he spends his evenings patrolling the streets, stopping any time he sees a chance to make contact with someone the rest of society has forgotten.He hasn’t seen Judy, an older woman homeless for more than a decade, in days and worries. “Everybody has been trying to get her indoors for years, but no,” he says, pulling away from her corner.He finds her tucked into a sleeping bag on the sidewalk a block from the library, across the street from the new downtown Target. “She has a very strict routine, and she’s only going to go into an apartment if we can find her one downtown. This is where she’s comfortable, where she knows how to survive.“When I go home now and tell people about what I do for a living, they don’t understand,” he said.
“They don’t understand the basic concept of homelessness. ’” His approach is simple: “I just go out and talk to my friends.” The search is not difficult. At the corner of Northwest Hoyt and Fourth Avenue, behind an abandoned Old Town warehouse, a dozen men line up before he’s even put the van into park.
But she looks like somebody’s grandma, and she’s sleeping outside.” Since starting its outreach program, JOIN has helped 5,000 homeless men and women return indoors.