If the data heads are right and I’ve spent a third of my life sleeping, I’d be willing to wager that I’ve spent another large fraction of my sweet life pie sitting in Community Commission on Homelessness meetings and related gatherings of committees, coalitions and tasking, tsking forces.
And always there at the table — certainly through more years of many, many more meetings than I ever met — in his best black “dress” sweatshirt and patient, positive, plainspoken, utterly unflappable demeanor, was the now soon-to-retire Lawrence Community Shelter director Loring Henderson.
Oh, how we made the case and made the case again for a permanent emergency shelter in this town. Oh, how we studied and schemed and collaborated and compared.
It was after one of those meetings that I gave Loring a ride back to his office at the then-downtown shelter. He abruptly asked me to stop in front of the old Carnegie Library at Ninth and Vermont. He’d recognized on the steps of the building a rumpled jacket and plastic bag of belongings, perhaps the only worldly goods of a shelter guest he knew. Loring bolted out of my car to gather up those items so that he could return them to the man who’d forgotten them.
I remember Loring’s words as he got back in the car, “You know, this is really all I’ve ever wanted to do. “
What a gift to know one’s calling and to so delight in it that one perseveres, joyfully, through more than a decade of the necessary drudgery of civic democracy, the then-seemingly endless blaming and criticism from various fear-fraught NIMBYs, as well as the well-justified concerns of members of a caring and well-informed community. Loring did this while holding his “day job,” shouldering the 24/7 challenges of running a makeshift emergency shelter and in those days, before the move to the new location, anyone would agree that LCS was a tender box of crowding, limited resources and populations too closely housed for comfort.
But Loring has a strongly held true north when it comes to human beings. It’s pretty simple to state: Those in need must be fed and sheltered. Through all the meetings I sat through, that was really pretty much all Loring said.
It was enough, I thank God. And today, thanks to Loring and the hard-working and devoted LCS board and staff, there is a place for food and shelter, a place for getting one’s bearings, for recovering, perhaps, one’s own true north.