He was homeless. He had serious substance abuse and mental health problems. And he had a personality that was as big as a hot air balloon.
Over the past 20 years, Reggie Grimes became a prominent member of our family. And when he died in a tragic house fire in our neighborhood, everyone who knew him felt the impact.
“It’s a tremendous loss,” said Sister Grace. “It’s heart-breaking. I’m having trouble getting things done that need to be done, because I keep thinking about Reggie.”
Finding a family. And a home.
Reggie came to The House shortly after our move to Hudson Avenue. And he quickly found a home.
“He just dropped by one day and never left,” said C.W.
“I think Reggie found peace, safety and comfort here. He knew we were his friends and his mainstay in this world. He became a permanent fixture,” added Sister Grace.
A promising future derailed by addiction.
At one time Reggie had been a great high school athlete. Later, he worked for great companies like Wegmans and Kodak. But then someone introduced him to drugs. And his accelerating addiction combined with growing mental health problems to end his chance for a stable lifestyle.
After that, Reggie started panhandling and living on the street. And he was never really able to take care of himself again.
Sometimes in the winter he would walk around without shoes or a shirt. His hands would get frostbitten. He would sit down in the snow and get freezing cold. And it was only a matter of time until the elements would get the best of him.
But then he found out about The House of Mercy. And he quickly became a prominent member of the family.
“Reggie was often the last person I saw at night and the first person I saw in the morning,” C.W. recalled. “Of course, he was still a free spirit. He’d come and go. But he always knew we were there if he needed us.”
One place in the world he could always count on.
Many times over the years, people at The House tried to help Reggie find a place of his own. But Reggie’s demons inevitably got in the way.
Sometimes he would take furniture out of an apartment and leave it on the curb. Then he’d replace the furniture with bags of trash dragged in from the street.
When that happened, it was only a matter of time before a landlord or motel manager called The House to come get him. Because The House never closes its doors on people in need.
“A lot of the people we help have so many problems,” said C.W. “They’re not really responsible for their actions. But we never give up on them.”
“Some people don’t think of homeless people as human beings,” said Sister Grace. “But despite their struggles, they are God’s children just like everyone else. We have a lot of Reggies at The House of Mercy.”
The lovable side of Reggie.
Reggie could be difficult. But he had a sweet, humorous side. And he never lied.
“He could be so funny. He’d come up and kiss me and say he loved me,” recalled Sister Grace. “And he always told the truth. If he did something wrong, he’d always admit it. He was really one of the most honest people you’ll ever meet.”
Whether he stayed at the House or found a place to sleep on the streets, Reggie was a visible member of the community. Everyone knew him by his first name. In his own way, he was a Hudson Avenue celebrity.
“He had such a presence,” Sister Grace said. “He made himself known. And he was such a big part of The House and our neighborhood.”
“He had a lot of problems,” added C.W. “But I don’t know anyone who met Reggie and didn’t like him.”
Tragedy leaves a terrible loss.
In early April, Reggie found a new place to live. But on April 23—just a few days after Easter Sunday–a fire broke out. And Reggie was trapped in the bathroom.
He had severe problems with his feet. He had lost all his toes due to diabetes. And that made it impossible for him to run and escape.
As word of Reggie’s death spread, people from all walks of life stopped by to express their condolences. A bus driver who had seen Reggie panhandling through countless winters came by, deeply saddened by the news.
Someone called to make a contribution to The House in Reggie’s name. And after signs were posted around the neighborhood, a huge crowd turned out for his funeral and wake.
Reggie’s death also brought several members of his family back together for the first time in years. His daughter flew in from Arizona. His brother headed to Rochester from Alabama, the state where Reggie was born.
“People spoke about how much they missed him,” C.W. said.
For Sister Grace, Reggie’s death has been especially difficult to deal with. Nevertheless, she holds on to one shining thought in the aftermath of the tragedy.
“On Easter Sunday, the Sunday before he died,” she said, “we held a Mass at The House. Our choir was singing. And Reggie jumped up next to the priest and started dancing. He seemed so happy. Now I think of him dancing his way to heaven. We will never forget him at The House of Mercy.”