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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Homeless on Bliss Street

Staff writer Stephanie Barry of The Republican, a newspaper in West Springfield, Massachusetts, reports recently about a formerly homeless young man, 18-year-old William O'Neill. Some of his earliest childhood memories of being homeless include standing on a street corner at midnight, alone and waiting for a ride, struggling under the weight of a suitcase.

At 3, he coped with having a mother strung out on drugs. In later years, he made regular visits to a homeless encampment behind a discount store on the west side of Springfield to bring food and supplies to another family member. "We bounced around a lot when I lived with my mom," O'Neill said. "Maybe the most ironic names for the worst hell hole we lived in was Bliss Street." There were nights they lived at campsites and dinky apartments, until his mother gave him up to live with his aunt, Ellen O'Neill, in West Springfield.

Today, William is poised to enter Assumption College in Worcester with full financial aid, O'Neill has been vice president of his class and president of the National Honor Society. However, he is forever inexorably linked to the plight of the homeless. Since first donating a load of goods to a men's shelter in 2007 to earn his Eagle Scout badge, O'Neill has continued raising money for the homeless at an almost frenetic pace ever since. "I've seen how real it is. And that it can happen to anyone around here," he said. "So anyone can try to make a difference to change it." He volunteers at soup kitchens, and raises money for clothes and other supplies through church and school.

Ironically, O’Neill states …"Once my mom said: 'Your picture is up on the wall at the shelter, and I got a new pair of socks and they said they were from you,'" O'Neill recalled of a donation two years ago.

For O'Neill's part, seeing the problem up close has helped to shape him, and has branded him with a compassion that is rare for his years. Looking at a bedraggled collection of homeless dozing on retaining walls outside the Worthington Street shelter on Saturday, he said: "When I look at them, I see people who need another chance."

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