Chris Matthews seemed to defy society’s ideas of a street person.
A high school graduate, Matthews 28, said he attended the University of Northwestern Ohio and studied automotive technology and high-performance motorsports.
Well-spoken and dressed in clean clothes that he launders at Community Support Services on Wolf Ledges Parkway in Akron, Matthews accepted an offer of help from well-meaning people and appeared ready to jump at the chance to get a fresh start.
But when the time came to take that helping hand, Matthews ended up rebuffing the offer.
“Overall, there are 500 homeless in the area. About 200 of them are chronically homeless, like Chris. We know their situation isn’t going to change unless we get involved,” said Keith Stahl, director of residential services at Community Support Services.
Stahl had great hopes for Matthews, who was featured in a news story last month in which he told a reporter he wanted to move to Baton Rouge, La., where there is a plethora of jobs for the taking.
The Southern city sounded like Utopia to a young man who has been homeless for two years and sleeps on the floor of a downtown parking deck each night.
Stahl wasn’t the only one to hold out hope for Matthews.
The story resonated with a local woman (who asked not to be identified).
She said she was denied entry into the downtown d.b.a. restaurant Dec. 21 while 50 of the city’s chronically homeless — those sleeping on the streets and in tents — were being treated to a holiday meal. She said she didn’t understand why until she read about the dinner, sponsored by Joel Testa and the Formerly Homeless Foundation.
She emailed the Beacon Journal with an offer to pay Matthews’ bus fare. On the same day, Lisa Charles, a representative from the Louisiana Workforce Commission, contacted the newspaper and offered to help the young man find work when (and if) he relocated to Louisiana.
“Although we usually assist veterans, after we read the story we decided to take Chris on as our special little project,” Charles said.
For the next two weeks, Stahl worked with Matthews to determine if he would use the opportunity to make a change. Then he purchased the bus ticket, which was waiting for him Wednesday at the Greyhound counter at the Metro Regional Transit Authority station on South Broadway near downtown Akron.
“He seems highly motivated to change his life in a positive manner and seems to consistently do the right thing,” Stahl wrote on a recent comprehensive assessment questionnaire required by the Louisiana Workforce Commission.
Matthews, who previously had never been late for an appointment at CSS, failed to appear at the agency Wednesday morning, however. Staff there had put together a going-away package, including cash to see him through the trip that was to start shortly after noon.
A Greyhound representative said the nontransferable ticket had been printed, but Matthews was not on the bus when it pulled out of the station.
“In reality, this is why he has been homeless for so long,” Stahl said.
There is one bright spot in the story: The news report of the dinner for Akron’s homeless population brought much needed attention to the newly formed foundation, Testa said.
“This just kind of kick-started the foundation,” he said. “I started getting messages from all over the world.”
Testa said a South African nonprofit agency has reached out and asked to partner with the foundation.
As for Matthews, Stahl said he is still welcome at CSS when he wants to take a shower or do his laundry.
“If everyone is honest with themselves, they have wanted to do something and were afraid to take the risk,” Stahl said of society at large.
For more information on Formerly Homeless Foundation, visit www.formerlyhomeless.org.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.