Harbor Homes holds Thanksgiving meal

Just six weeks ago, you would have seen Tom Taylor at his lowest.

The 32-year-old slept anywhere that was safe and warm. For sustenance, he relied on the Nashua Soup Kitchen and handouts from restaurants and strangers.

For a month, Taylor roamed the city streets wondering what would happen next, although he took small comfort in knowing it couldn’t get much worse.

On Tuesday, you would have seen Tom Taylor at a new high.

He stood tall and laughed a bit. He ate a hot pre-Thanksgiving dinner without rush and without the worry about where he would walk next.

Taylor not only has found shelter, but he discovered a path away from the existence that would almost certainly have shortened his life.

“I did a 180-degree turn,” Taylor said among the bustle of about 300 people who, like him, took advantage of Harbor Homes’ annual Thanksgiving community dinner.

Long after the Thanksgiving holiday comes and goes, Taylor and the others will continue to rely on the social service agency for assistance in overcoming homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness or HIV.

Taylor, for one, stays at the agency’s Maple Street shelter. But it’s not just a place to rest his head.

Harbor Homes first helped Taylor find the proper treatment for the mental illnesses that chased him onto the streets, he said. He was also pointed in the right direction for other necessary services such as Social Security, and will soon enroll at Nashua Community College for nursing classes, he said.

“They started to transition me into being a human being,” Taylor said.

“Every day they push us to better ourselves.”

If you need Thanksgiving Dinner…

Not far from Taylor, a lean man stood with purpose and moved swiftly to clean empty plates off tables. He had the bearing of someone just discharged from the Marines.

But Kenny will tell you that just a year ago, he was losing a long battle with cocaine.

“I was out of my mind,” he said. “I was lost. Had no idea.”

But this September, Kenny – who declined to give his last name – marked his one-year anniversary without the drug. He has had day-to-day counseling at Harbor Homes’ Keystone Hall, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.

It’s not the big stresses that tempt a drug addict, but the little things, Kenny said. The staff at Keystone have helped solidify his footings so that those little things won’t lead to temptation, he said.

Kenny now feels a “sense of freedom,” he said.

“I want folks out there who think drug addicts are the scourge of the earth to know that we’re your sons and daughters. We’re your neighbors.”

There were hundreds of other stories to tell in between bites of cranberry sauce.

Another was that of Ron Gelinas, who fulfilled the goal of Buckingham Place, a Harbor Homes facility that provides transitional housing to homeless veterans.

Gelinas suffered a near-life-ending car accident in Arizona, rehabilitated, but then needed to move back home to New Hampshire to be near his mother, who had suffered a stroke.

He is about to move into his own apartment and was just hired to be the community relations coordinator for Buckingham Place.

All those stories, and the good cheer of food, made the annual meal another special occasion, Harbor Homes President Peter Kelleher said.

Gov. John Lynch stopped by to serve food, and the house band led a sing-a-long of “Happy Birthday” for the state’s top executive.