If you struck up a conversation with Larry, you would probably like him right away. He is quick-witted, perceptive, and kind. Speaking with him, you feel that he cares about what you have to say. Knowing his good nature, it is saddening to see Larry in the tough position he is in today. At 79 years old, Larry is dealing with a number of serious health issues. He is afflicted by PTSD stemming from his childhood and his time as a soldier in the Vietnam War. He is also homeless. It is sad to see Larry in pain, but it is much sadder to imagine what his life would be like if he were unsheltered on the streets. Thankfully, we don’t have to. Larry has been safe at the Mission since arriving this summer. Once here, he quickly earned a reputation as a resilient, humorous, and good-natured man. He jokes around with clients and staff regularly, and his positive attitude is almost hard to believe when you consider what he has dealt with. Larry grew up in a small town in Oregon. After a traumatic childhood, he enlisted in the military. Larry served in the Vietnam War, one of 2.7 million Americans to do so. He was involved in multiple combat scenarios. His experiences in the war affected him greatly, both then and now.
After his military service, Larry worked in Oregon as a bridge welder. His work ethic caught the attention of his superiors and he moved up the ladder quickly. Larry was given the chance to go to trade school, where he earned his certification to be a pipeline welder.
For years after that, Larry’s life was relatively stable. That all changed, however, when his health began to deteriorate. Larry experienced chronic pain, difficulty breathing, and finally laryngeal cancer. His condition worsened, until one day he found himself in a hospital bed in Kalispell, Montana. Doctors gave him two hours to live.
Larry underwent emergency surgery, which saved his life. That surgery marked the end of a stable living situation for him, however. Larry’s hospital bill came out to more than $100,000 – a figure that was not remotely within his reach. To make matters worse, he needed expensive prescription medications to live.
“When you’re in that situation, you can’t just go out and make that money back,” Larry says. “From there on, it’s been a gradual road downhill.”
Larry’s savings were gone. Homelessness followed. He was living out of his car when he made his way to Northlands Rescue Mission, which a friend had described to him as “the best Mission in the country” years earlier.
“I realize that I’m very fortunate to have this facility to come to,” Larry says. “The day after I signed in, [they] helped me get glasses. I told [the advocacy team] about my childhood and that I’m having some anger issues. They’re going to help me get to some outside people for counseling.” Larry has found stability since arriving at the Mission. He has food, clothing, and people to talk to when he's feeling down. This support system has positively impacted his outlook on life.
“I’m grateful to be alive,” Larry says. “I walk out of here every morning, and I’ve got a shower. I have a bed to sleep in. Sometimes I just need to talk to somebody, and the people who work here have been really good.” Larry has developed a routine, and he finds ways to keep his mind engaged. This helps him deal with his PTSD and get through the many medical appointments that fill his schedule.
“I’m an early riser,” Larry says. “I get up around six o’clock. I watch the news, I clean up. I go get coffee. I don’t hang around [the Mission]. I’m not ashamed of it, but I think it’s up to me to get outside in the community.”
Larry enjoys spending time outside, often driving to one of the many parks in town. He’s also an avid reader. He has a library card, and it’s not unusual for him to go through four or five books in a week. His favorite author is Tom Clancy, whose books Larry says he has read twice - all of them! “The good thing about getting old and your memory goes, you can read the same book again and you don’t realize you read it!” Larry jokes.
Larry would like to stay in Grand Forks permanently. He is working on getting an apartment, and then he’d like to get a service dog. His last dog, Tony, was his faithful companion and source of support for fourteen years.
Larry has some stability in his life now, but that doesn’t mean things are easy. He is still dealing with severe health issues. His doctors told him they expect he’ll make it to his 80th birthday in October. After that, they’re not sure. Despite this, Larry has hope.
“I think people either want to give up, or they want to succeed,” Larry tells us. “I want to succeed. Every day I’m grateful. If you start your day off positive, there’s a pretty good chance something good will happen.” “The people who contribute to this establishment . . . thank God for them,” Larry says. “I wish I could go and see them and shake their hand and say ‘thank you’ personally. Without the Mission, I would be living in my car again. A lot of people wouldn’t have gotten help. I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. - 1 Thessalonians 5:18
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