It took Eugene Paul Hartzell a couple minutes to free his new turquoise scarf from a tree branch at Veterans Park.
“It means love. It means warmth. It means care. It makes me think people aren’t that bad,” said Hartzell, who spent the previous night sleeping on a bench across from a 7-Eleven on the West Side.
Hartzell’s new scarf was one of dozens handmade by members of Longmeadow Congregational Church in Auburn. Leaving scarves out for the city’s homeless has become a tradition for the church. They were put out earlier in the week and only a few remained tied to trees Friday morning when I met Hartzell.
Looking clean in a pair of intact jeans, a leather jacket and Vietnam veteran hat, I had to ask Hartzell if he was actually homeless. He said he’s been on the streets for about 10 months because he can’t find a bed at any housing for homeless vets. And he’s not a fan of the shelter at New Horizons.
“The homeless steal from the homeless,” he said.
Born in Fort Worth, Ind., he said he’s lived in Manchester since the 1980s after time stationed in San Diego with the Navy. People could just sleep on the beach there, he remembered.
I don’t want to be homeless. I’m tired of it,” he said. “I want to get off the streets. I want to go to work.”
He said his last job was for a local wholesale distributor where he was training to get his CDL license before he left in 2015. He would still like to pursue that.
But in his heart of hearts, Hartzell is a musician.
“God gave me a lot of songs to write, but I got drafted,” he said. The songs still come to him, he said, mostly at night when he’s sleeping or while he’s watching the sun set.
“Sure I love music. How else am I going to express my love for people? I want to make their heart beat, make their feet dance,” he said, his whole body starting to move as if a band had just started playing in the middle of the park.
While his fear of having his stuff stolen was a constant theme throughout our conversation, I won’t be surprised if Hartzell gives his scarf away soon, along with the food he keeps in his backpack to help out his fellow homeless.
It’s his faith that keeps his heart soft. He’s a Bible man, attending three churches on Sundays and quoting scripture that helps him get through the hard times and see hope for this weary world.
“I want to change their hearts, change their minds,” he said.