New Day friend Pete Smith – one of our many beloved vulnerable Laurel neighbors – is a living testimony to our motto that “No one should die alone in the woods.” Less than five years ago, he was among the homeless living in his tent in the North Laurel woods “among drug dealers and thieves.” This campsite setting warranted middle-of-the-night police visits and identification checks when fights broke out among his homeless neighbors. His situation also led to complex medical complications when his neighbors broke into his tent to steal essential medicine: Pete secured most medicines at a Laurel day center, well aware of the threat to personal possessions for the homeless, but constant access to that single vial of insulin could mean the difference between life and death for a diabetic. Nonetheless, Pete preferred the sense of independence he maintained living in the tent to the worry of risking his possessions in the shelter alternative -- even when that shelter served as protection from the harsh weather in at least one winter he spent without a residential address.
Pete became homeless in 2010 after medical maladies made it impossible for him to work and to pay the rent in this high cost of living area. After declining the shelter vouchers offered as the solution to his situation, he met Ruth Walls, a Laurel nurse renowned for connecting the vulnerable members of the community with medical care, psychiatric assessments, and substance abuse treatment options, as well as advising New Day on how best to care for our vulnerable friends. Ruth changed his life. She served as his initial advocate during the medical disability process, assisting him in obtaining the appropriate Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits which allowed him to move from his tent to his first residence in 2013. In addition to assisting him with the disability benefits process, Ruth connected Pete with various medical services which ultimately saved his vision and his life in 2015. She also connected him with her daughter Wrenn Skidmore, the Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW) who supported Pete throughout life’s trials long before she was hired as New Day’s first and only employee in Oct 2015.
While the authentic challenges of Laurel living continue for Pete (i.e., high cost of living, neighbors tapping into his electricity while trying to get him evicted via the landlord, persistent medical conditions), his connections with New Day relationships and services provide a firm foundation which allows him to remain both encouraged and encouraging.
His encouragement recently extended to the New Day church youth and youth leaders participating in the “Day in the Life” event, where Pete graced the Bethany Community Church barn stage to share his perspective on Laurel homelessness. Recapping his comments in a follow-on interview, Pete proclaimed that “being homeless is not a joke,” a reality participants clearly took away from the Day in the Life experience.
But balancing that reality with the event’s message of hope regarding how New Day supporters can impact our vulnerable friends, Pete reflected on how rapidly the life changing disability benefits process moved with the support of New Day services and advisors: “Isn’t that a blessing from God!”
Indeed, it is Pete! God moves in the most amazing ways, and we invite you to be a part of it through your financial contributions to New Day of Laurel, Inc.