Homeless, not hopeless: Beyond the label

By Perry Russom

February 6, 2014 Updated Feb 6, 2014 at 7:25 PM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Homeless, but not hopeless. That's what some men who lost their way in life want people to know.

"It came to a point where I had to be knocked to my knees to really understand who I am," said Reggie Jackson.

Jackson was a truck driver before getting a DUI, leaving him with legal fees and nowhere to call home.

We met him while he was handing out sandwiches at the Salvation Army on Washington Street. He's been staying at the Whitney Place Rescue Mission in Binghamton for the past nine months.

"The portrayal of homeless people is that they're shiftless, lazy criminals and I don't find that to be the case," said Jackson.

He said some of the homeless do have mental health issues, "but a vast majority of them are people who fell upon hard time."

Next to him handing out sandwiches was Andrew Lamen. He was addicted to heroine and alcohol.

"Unfortunately, that's the only thing that they see is the mistakes that we've made and not the progress we're making to make our lives better," said Lamen, who has called the mission home for the last five months.

He's now on his way to taking classes at Davis College where he wants to become a pastor and counselor.

"The pain that they know they've caused, the guilt and the shame they have, they don't want that," said Rathmell. "They don't want that for their lives."

As program manager of the mission, Rathmell works with the homeless every day. Her job is to help get these men back on their feet.

"I've had people, people say to my face, you deal with alcoholics all the time, you should know they're worthless," said Rathmell. "I've had a resident sitting in my office trying not to cry because they're parole office just told them, there's no way you're going to get that job you're going for. Not with your history."

She said the tendency is to judge someone else's lifestyle or decisions.

"When someone sees an individual on the street, it's easier to assume that it was their fault, or if you know it was their fault, it's easy to judge their lifestyle or their decision as opposed to seeing them as a person," she said.

This is part three in a series of reports on the homeless in Binghamton.

Click here to access Part One: Homeless, not hopeless: Whitney Place Rescue Mission
Click here to access Part Two: Homeless, not hopeless: The Search