Author: Nate Hopper
Date: November 2010
People: Mervyn Patrick, Nate Hopper
Data points: According to a street count taken by community workers on Jan. 26, 2010, in Syracuse, there were 718 homeless in the city. Of these, 75 were classified as "chronically homeless," 221 as severely mentally ill, and 101 as victims of domestic violence. Some 66 of the total were military veterans.
Many homeless people in Syracuse are from the area. But Mervyn Patrick truly has no one place to call home. He emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago to New York City and then to Syracuse, with several stops in-between. He said he hoped to leave Syracuse some day, too, but was unsure where he would go next.
While Mervyn has had no city or neighborhood to call his own — and sometimes not even a house to live in or a family that would talk with him — he does have a place where he can regularly find himself: in his writing.
When I first met him in early November at the Rescue Mission, a shelter for the Syracuse homeless, he slowly, meticulously etched out a title of a book on a pad of loose-leaf, imprinting it onto several of the pages. It was the title of his first book: a memoir of his own journey. We went to the library, where again he labored over a computer keyboard — making it painful for me to imagine the process he went through typing out each page — to show that his book, written by a man such as him, was available to buy online.
But after that day, Mervyn disappeared. His prepaid cell phone plan expired. I couldn’t find him at the shelter, and he never responded to written notes left on the day- center message board or to inquiries I left with workers at the overnight facility.
He said he had never spent a night on the streets, and I doubt he took to them as the winter cold settled in, especially with the shelter available. But he had said he wanted to leave to write a second book about his self-education. I have not been able to find Mervyn again — as it’s been for many loved ones and acquaintances from many places in the past. But Mervyn’s messages for all those people —including maybe even for Mervyn himself, in a way — are in his book.