While he worked hard to get back on his feet, Constant credits the Granite Leaders program for teaching him important life skills and shoring up his confidence when he needed it most.
Constant had been out of work and receiving Social Security Disability Insurance payments for COPD emphysema — $872 per month — when he broke up with his then-girlfriend and had to move out of their home. He stayed with a family member temporarily but had to leave due to lack of space.
So, on Feb. 3, 2013, Constant found himself homeless for the first time.
“I didn’t know where to go. … I was lost and extremely depressed,” Constant said. “For the first time in my life I had to actually admit that I had failed.”
Just a few days later, a major blizzard dubbed “winter storm Nemo” hit the state. Concord received about 24 inches of snow, according to USA Today.
Constant found shelter at New Horizons, where he stayed for about two months before finding an apartment, paid for mostly with his disability check. But he was still unemployed and his rent was high, so four months later he moved in with his niece.
He was grateful, but his confidence was still low. After years of being self-sufficient and raising two kids, he was now staying with a relative whose diapers he used to change.
While staying with his niece, Constant enrolled in an associate’s program in psychology at Mount Washington College using federal student aid. Around the same time, Constant was volunteering at the shelter by distributing food. The program director at New Horizons, Kevin Kintner, told him about an opportunity to apply for a program called Granite Leaders.
Organized by the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness, Granite Leaders teaches leadership skills to currently and formerly homeless people, and graduates are invited to speak on panels and testify at the Statehouse to advocate for homeless issues.
Coalition spokesperson Michele Talwani said the program is run every two years and lasts for six months. It is held in Manchester with monthly meetings, but there are occasions where the class goes to Concord or other places to get experience.
“It’s really to help engage them, [and] to educate the population and public about homelessness,” Talwani said. “Who better [to] speak about what it’s like to be homeless than somebody who has actually been through it?”
For Constant, it was also a huge confidence-booster.
“It was probably one of the best things I did after my homelessness,” Constant said.
Every time he was asked to speak publicly on the issue of homelessness, he gained a little bit more confidence.
Inspired by Constant’s story, the Hilton Garden Inn Manchester and Roedel Cos. recently donated $2,000 to the Coalition to support the Granite Leaders program.
Talwani said the program is currently in its third year and is in the process of recruiting candidates for when the program starts up again in November.
A happy ending
Eventually, Constant found work at the college and then started his job at the Hilton Garden Inn in March 2016. With new income, he weaned off disability insurance. Constant was able to get his own apartment and then moved in with an old girlfriend he had reconnected with. They got married last year.
He said he used to think homeless people were all addicts. He thought of them as “bums.” And when he first became homeless himself, he figured he must be the exception to the rule. But he quickly learned that wasn’t true, and that realization helped him get back on his feet.
“OK, I’m not the biggest loser in the world. I’m not the only guy who’s not drunk, not on drugs that lost his housing. Anything can happen,” Constant would tell himself at the time.
His advice for homeless people is to keep moving forward. Four years ago, he was alone, sleeping in a shelter, waiting out a blizzard. Now he’s got a place to call home, he’s married and he loves his job, which he calls his second family.
“For the first time in my entire life, I look forward to getting up in the morning and coming to work,” Constant said.