- Associated Press - Sunday, November 8, 2015

DANBURY, Conn. (AP) - For nearly a decade, Ed Noe has made his home in New Milford’s narrow alleyways, on the wooden benches of the town green and in the back entrance to a local restaurant.

The burly 48-year-old, who grew up in neighboring Brookfield, has been homeless for 25 years, the last 10 of them spent mostly in New Milford. He’s homeless by choice, because he doesn’t like being inside.

But when Noe’s behavior took an erratic turn and his mental state began deteriorating - he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia - a group of townspeople who know him, including a priest and the town’s social services director, began meeting to discuss how to help him. They were joined early this fall by members of Danbury Hospital’s community care team, a group of medical and human services professionals who have worked for months to help the region’s most vulnerable people.

The group’s hard and careful work paid off in October. Noe had developed an infected sore on his left leg that needed medical attention. On Oct. 5, he agreed to go to Danbury Hospital to have the wound treated, and while there, he was evaluated and admitted to the psychiatric unit.

When his sister visits him there, Noe often tells her, “It feels good to sleep in a bed.”

Community care teams have been lauded as an inexpensive yet effective way of helping the long-term homeless and others with chronic mental health and substance abuse problems. Danbury’s team, one of seven statewide, started work in January.

Hospital officials statewide had hoped to expand the programs, which now rely mostly on private funding, with the help of a $1.5 million appropriation in this year’s state budget. But because of emergency budget cuts announced by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in September, the entire allocation was zeroed out.

“We were in this terrific posture in June, hoping to implement community care teams statewide,” said Carl Schiessl, the director of regulatory advocacy at the Connecticut Hospital Association. “I’m hoping that the Legislature can find that $1.5 million and restore it to the current budget and get this program up and running.”

Danbury Hospital’s program already has been able to many others besides Noe.

Dr. Charles Herrick, the hospital’s chairman of psychiatry, said the team had 45 patients as of Sept. 30, three-fourths of them homeless or living in unstable housing situations. Eighty-five percent had problems with drug or alcohol abuse and just over half were diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses.

So far the care team has secured housing or housing vouchers for more than half the patients and substance abuse treatment for 40 percent, Herrick said.

“That’s the moral benchmark by which a community can measure itself,” he said. “You’re only as ethical as the way you treat your most vulnerable.”

Next year’s budget still contains a $3 million appropriation for community care teams.

The governor’s spokesman, Devon Puglia, said this year’s cut was regrettable but unavoidable.

“We provide extraordinary services in Connecticut - the best implementation of ACA in America, uninsured rates that have decline to historic lows, and exceptionally robust services for those in need,” he said. “At the same time, we need to define our core services, take proactive steps to ensure the budget is in balance, and build for the future. And that means we have to make very tough decisions.”

On Feb. 17, Laura Noe drove from her home in Branford to the New Milford green. She had been told that’s where she could find her little brother, whom she hadn’t seen in nine years.

As she pulled in she spotted saw a man in the distance. At first she didn’t realize it was her brother, but he recognized her, and waved.

Ed Noe’s appearance had changed greatly since she last saw him. He had a belly and a beard, and his face was weathered from years of living outside.

The temperature was 7 degrees above zero. Noe was holding a Styrofoam container packed full of steaming eggs and a family-sized portion of bacon, but he refused to sit in her warm car.

Laura Noe had started searching for him the month before, when their father was dying. But now she had to tell her brother, sobbing, standing in front of a garbage can, that their father was gone and that his funeral had been three days earlier.

Ed Noe didn’t cry or get upset. He spoke to her like she’d had just seen him yesterday.

After that, Laura Noe said, she started going to New Milford every two weeks, always bringing a brown-bagged lunch including a sandwich, an apple, a few cookies and a note saying, “You are loved.”

Her conversations with her brother were always short, nothing deep. But the more time she spent in New Milford, the more she realized that many townspeople had become her baby brother’s family, too.

They bought him cups of coffee and packs of cigarettes. When his sleeping bag was stolen, they collected money to buy him a sturdy new one.

And when he was taken to Danbury Hospital, Laura Noe learned, many worried because they didn’t know where he’d gone. Some feared the worst.

Angel Salinas had met Ed Noe when he opened his restaurant, Johana’s, on Main Street, in 2006. He was put off by Ed at first, but said he learned to see beyond the dirty clothes and knotted beard. He saw a man in need, a man with a big heart.

For the last nine years, Salinas said, he’s fed Ed Noe almost every day. He also let him sleep in the small back entranceway to the restaurant.

Salinas, 41, said customers would often give him $5 and $10 to buy Noe some coffee or a plate of food. He always gave the money to Ed, hoping that he’d use it to buy himself dinner when the restaurant was closed at night.

But the kindness wasn’t just one-way. Noe would often help unload groceries, and whenever Salinas started to take out the garbage, Noe would do it for him, saying, “I’m stronger.”

“Eddie was a nice guy to me,” Salinas said. “I’m happy he’s being taken care of, but I’m going to miss him.”

As news spread this week that Noe was in the hospital, the town responded with an outpouring of kindness, Laura Noe said. When she posted an update about her brother on Facebook, including several photos, it was shared more than 500 times. Dozens of people sent her private messages, many expressing relief that her brother was OK and some telling stories of friendly encounters with him.

“Ed’s a teddy bear and he’s always been that way,” his sister said.

The Noe family lived in Brewster, N.Y., until her brother was 5, Laura Noe said. They moved to a house on Flax Hill Road in Brookfield, where Ed went to public schools. He graduated from high school and went to the University of Maine, where he studied forestry and earned an associate’s degree.

Ed has always loved the New York Mets, Laura said, and he’s been watching the World Series in the hospital. He’s taking his medicine and keeping clean and shaven. He’s also making eye contact with her more often, something he rarely did when they first reunited.

Ed will stay at Danbury until a bed opens up at a mental health facility in Bridgeport.

In the meantime, Laura Noe said, she is grateful that people in New Milford understood that “there is a human in that dirty brown jacket, there is a boy with a story.”

“He’s been kept alive by the kindness of these people,” Laura Noe said. “He has survived because of people being able to see beyond a dirty homeless man.”

___

Information from: The News-Times, http://www.newstimes.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide