A Place in the Crowd

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Lee: "I've been here a year. My daughter handles my affairs. I keep telling her, 'Find me more affairs.'"

Gaskins: "This is a family-style place. They do everything they can to make it like a big family and not an institution. It's the best place I've seen. And I've seen a lot of places. Everyone knows everyone. If you're sick, they know what's wrong with you. I've been to five funerals already."

Lee: "I like it here okay. But then again, I have nothing to compare it to."
Gaskins: "This is the only home I've got. You kick me out, and where will I go? I disowned my family. They were aggravating me. They think I have a mental disability. I had my attorney write a letter and disown them."

Lee: "We used to have a blind man here. I liked to recite poetry to him. 'The Face on the Barroom Floor.' Stuff like that. When I'd do it, it was a big thing. The people at the next table thought we were crazy."

Gaskins: "I try to sleep 20 hours out of 24 hours. My feet are too swollen to wear shoes. I have a blood problem. My legs are weak and give out. I'm taking all kinds of narcotics and pills. But it's this walker that's holding me down."

Lee: "My health is good. In the mornings I go for bus rides. I go to Boulder, wherever. The bus depot is only a block from here. It's a way of killing time."

Gaskins: "I've been in the same room for three years. That's the longest I've ever been in one room. If you told me when I was traveling in Europe that I'd be here today, I'd say you were crazy. But, here I am."

The manager of the Barth, Kelly Sullivan, keeps two coloring-book pictures taped to her file cabinet. One is a lizard smeared bright red and the other is a purple butterfly. They were gifts from a tenant, reminders of how warm and inspirational life at the Barth can be.

One resident, a 54-year-old man with the mind of a child, was abandoned on the streets by his family. He survived by collecting aluminum cans, exchanging them for pocket money and sleeping where he could. One winter night about ten years ago, passersby heard screams coming from a dumpster. They found the man inside, suffering from severe frostbite. He was taken to a hospital, where he had both feet amputated.

When the man arrived at the Barth in 1991, he barely knew how to eat with table utensils. He didn't shower. He rarely talked. Now he bathes, shaves, eats with a fork and knows everyone's name--and their business. And each day, he slips on sneakers stuffed with socks, walks through the city and collects aluminum cans.

Gaskins: "Sometimes I wonder, 'What have I accomplished with my life?' All I can answer is that I've got a roof over my head and I'm eating. I'm still here. I guess I've accomplished that."

Lee: "I got a VCR and a bunch of old video tapes. I watch a lot of television. I've got a collection of old movies. This morning I was watching You Can't Take It With You, with Jimmy Stewart. Tomorrow I'll probably go for another exciting bus ride. I'll probably go to Boulder."

Gaskins: "In June of 2000 I'm going back to China, baby. Calcutta. Katmandu. Nepal. If my health allows it, I'll go. I can hardly wait. I'm getting restless again.

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Harrison Fletcher

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