WILKES-BARRE — The word on the street, thankfully, was wrong.
Dave Wasnalas, a chronically homeless man who has been a fixture on Public Square for years, was thought to have died. The reports turned out to be untrue.
Dave, 52, is a patient at local senior care center. I talked to Dave on Monday. It was great to hear his voice. He sounded good — better than I’ve ever heard him. And considering that he is battling cancer — a battle he expects to win — Dave said he was looking forward to getting out of the facility soon.
Dave said he has caseworkers trying to find him a job and a place to live. He hopes to be reunited with his close friend, Lynn Bell.
“I’m done with the street,” he said of his homeless days. “I’m not going back to that.”
When he first got on the phone, we talked about the reports that were circulating on the streets he used to call home.
“Everything’s OK,” Dave said. “I’ve been here since last September.”
Path to recovery
Dave detailed his health issues and he told me that he has been going for treatment and to doctor’s appointments. He said he feels good and longs to get out and on his own. He believes he can stay on this path to recovery.
Dave said he would call me when he got out and he wants to get together for a coffee and a sandwich. I told him it would be on my tab.
That is the good news. The troubling news is that there was a period of time — about two weeks — when we didn’t know where Dave was or if he was still alive. The reports were not good. That’s why we talked about it in Sunday’s column — we sincerely wanted to find Dave and we hoped he was OK.
Some of you may wonder why I wrote the original column the way I did, and why I referred to “word on the street.”
For a news story, no, we would never use such a phrase. For a column — in which I was trying to make a point — I did.
The point was that we didn’t know. As I wrote, I talked to a police officer, a pastor and a former director of a homeless drop-in center — they all had heard the same, that Dave had died, but nobody knew for sure.
“I hope the reports of Dave’s death are untrue,” I wrote.
They were. But how many others are out there, living on the streets of Luzerne County, or under bridges, or down by the river who are not accounted for and need help? Who don’t have newspaper reporters asking about them?
We should care, as a community, that these human beings are accounted for and when they are conspicuous in their absence, we can seek them out.
To their credit, Dave’s family did all they could to find out where Dave was and they were successful. They were concerned and they were determined to find him and they did.
We need that kind of diligence as a community. We need a men’s homeless shelter in Luzerne County. The traveling shelter that Catholic Social Services has that goes from church to church for two weeks at a time is vital. But there are many more homeless out there than the ones enrolled in that program.
There are reasons for that. Alcohol is at the top of that list. Maybe a drop-in center, like the former REACH center that closed a few years ago, can be revisited. Stefanie Wolownik ran REACH and she knows the benefits it had to the homeless — daily breakfast and coffee, showers, a place to be during the day, a mailing address and case management. She said help can be offered to help make health care appointments, job ideas and counseling.
Wolownik said alcohol could be a problem if a person becomes disruptive. But she said, more good than bad can happen at a drop-in center.
And there would be accountability — a roster of the homeless so they can be monitored and helped. If someone was missing for a couple of days, the network would be utilized to search for that person.
It’s good that Dave has been found and that he is being cared for, but the concern is for all those others that we walk by every day. If they are missing, who will know. And will anybody care?
The point here is that we all should care.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.