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Archive for Saturday, December 24, 2005

Homeless rescued to play Santa

December 24, 2005

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— Dale Keyser: bipolar, alcoholic, homeless, jobless, estranged from his wife and children.

But that's history.

Days before Christmas, Keyser is playing Santa Claus on Fifth Avenue - now a man with a roof over his head and a job, who volunteers to entertain the sidewalk crowds. And who will spend time with his own family during the holiday season.

"I love this. Little kids run up and say, 'Santa, I love you,"' said Keyser, who works for Volunteers of America, the group that helped him and about a dozen other "Santas" rebuild their lives.

One of his happiest moments was the day when two busloads of schoolchildren on Fifth Avenue ran to him with such glee that they toppled him over.

Keyser, 63, is one of 96 formerly homeless people who live in studio apartments at Rose House, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, where they are offered treatment for substance abuse and mental illness, as well as job training. Four of them are playing sidewalk Santas.

Volunteers of America, a Washington, D.C.-based national nonprofit, was founded more than a century ago to provide help through a network of community-based offices.

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