top of page
  • Writer's pictureCherie Calletta

The woods are just a few bad breaks away

courtesy photo

A friend in a neighboring state has been sharing this story with me, about a homeless man he has been trying to help. This did not happen in Hammonton, but stories like this can and do happen anywhere and everywhere. Every detail is just as my friend has told me.

Sometime in the early 2000s “Mr. Jones” was a high-level executive in an HMO—just a half step away from CEO. He and his wife lived the executive’s good life: they had three children, a big, beautiful house in the suburbs, high earnings. It was the picture perfect upper-middle class American dream.

Around the mid-late 2000s this utopia was shattered when he came home one day, entered the bedroom, and found his wife in flagrante delicto with another man, an acquaintance of his.

And that’s when it all fell apart.

He filed for divorce, moved out and got an apartment. The state he lives in is said to favor the wife, so in the settlement, she got the house, custody of the kids, child support, and alimony. The fact that she was the one who cheated did not appear to trouble the court.

They have their rules and precedents, and that’s what they followed.

Understandably despondent, “Mr. Jones” started “self-medicating” with substances. He became an abusive user of alcohol, cocaine, crack cocaine, and finally, heroin. Severe addiction followed.

In 2016 his son asked to move in with him, and he said yes, of course. But this son was also addicted to substances.

One morning Mr. Jones woke up, went into the living room, tried to wake his son for work, but found his son dead on the sofa.

The 25-year-old died of a Fentanyl overdose.

For about five years Jones was able to function at his job, but the addictions and sorrow affected his performance. Eventually, he was fired.

He tried to make a living as a consultant, but he was very well-known in his small community, and everyone knew about his substance abuse, so no one wanted to hire him even on a per-event basis.

Lacking any income at all, and in even deeper despair, he could no longer pay rent and utilities. He was thus evicted from his apartment.

A married couple, members of the same Episcopal church my friend attends, were people Mr. Jones had known when he was employed. They offered him a temporary place to stay as long as he kept up with the Narcotics Anonymous (NA) program.

He stayed in their house for a while, but his addictions got the better of him and he was found to be using once again. The couple felt they had to take a tough love approach and asked him to leave.

The wardens of the church learned that he was living in the nearby woods. They decided to allow him to sleep in the church hall. The priest and his wife allowed him to store some of his belongings in the rectory and to use their shower, washer, and dryer.

July 2023: One evening outside the church where the NA meetings were held, he fell and broke his hip. The wardens believe that he was again under the influence when he fell. Due to his extremely poor health, his hip operation was not successful, and he needed a second one. My friend takes it upon himself to drive him to doctors and his rehab facility and has taken up his case as one of his personal charitable endeavors.

As of September 21, 2023, he was staying in a rehab facility. His Social Security Disability was just approved and now he waits to obtain Section 8 housing. My friend’s church is helping him with money and resources.

He’s one of the lucky ones.

In 2010 he was on top of the world: he was at the head of his organization; he was accustomed to lunching with CEOs, and to dining with surgeons and executives. His milieu was fine restaurants, expense accounts, first or business class, expensive suits, and the posh corner office—the one with the great view of the city and the river....

Some of what happened was the result of the destructive choices of other people, and some resulted from his own poor choices, but I believe that with this many bad breaks in an unrelenting succession, anyone could succumb to mental illness and substance abuse—and the two are intertwined.

Substance abuse is an illness more than a character flaw.

He is one of the men who sleep rough in the woods, one of those found on park benches in the mornings.

Every homeless person has a story. We just need them to tell us what it is.

Cherie Calletta was born and raised in Hammonton. She went to Japan for four years to teach English as a foreign language. She later spent about five years in Germany outside of Frankfurt am Main. After several years in Charlotte, North Carolina, she returned to Hammonton in 2002.


bottom of page